How controversial Theranos founder borrowed Steve Jobs’ look

By

Elizabeth Holmes
The black turtleneck look was synonymous with Steve Jobs.
Photo: Max Morse/TechCrunch/Wikipedia CC

Apple and particularly its iconic co-founder Steve Jobs have inspired some great people, ideas and companies over the years. But Apple’s beloved former leader and highly regarded products were also singled out as an inspiration for controversial health tech Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.

In a forthcoming book, Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou details some of the ways that Holmes (the exec whose net worth was revised from $4.5 billion to zero after questions about the validity of her blood testing tools emerged) cribbed notes from Apple’s playbook.

Dressing the part

Holmes notably wore a consciously Steve Jobs-inspired uniform consisting of a black turtleneck. She apparently began doing so in 2007 after hiring Ana Arriola, a product designer who had worked on the first iPhone. Arriola became chief design architect at Theranos and set about making Theranos’ technology something which looked and felt like an Apple product. Carreyrou writes:

“Ana felt that Elizabeth could use a makeover herself. The way she dressed was decidedly unfashionable. She wore wide gray pantsuits and Christmas sweaters that made her look like a frumpy accountant. People in her entourage like Channing Robertson and Don Lucas were beginning to compare her to Steve Jobs. If so, she should dress the part, she told her. Elizabeth took the suggestion to heart. From that point on, she came to work in a black turtleneck and black slacks most days.”

Steve Jobs started wearing his iconic mock turtleneck and Levis combination after returning to Apple in the late 1990s. It became a sort of uniform for him, and he was rarely seen without it.

The new Theranos book also notes how Holmes referred to the company’s blood-testing system as “the iPod of healthcare” and even named one product the 4s as an homage to one of the then-new iPhone models Apple had released.

These details are taken from the forthcoming book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, currently available to pre-order on Amazon.

Other Steve Jobs impersonators out there

Holmes isn’t, of course, the only person to take notes from Jobs and Apple on how to turn an otherwise relatively boring, or at least niche, technical product into something consumer-facing and worthy of gushing cover stories.

For example, Xiaomi boss Lei Jun grew his business by creating iPhone knockoffs, which he introduced while dressed in a black turtleneck and jeans. His story was told in a 2013 New York Times article titled, “In China, an Empire Built by Aping Apple.” Plenty of other entrepreneurs have also borrowed inspiration from Steve and Apple to help them market and sell their products.

Still, given the coverage Theranos has received since the Wall Street Journal first exposed its problematic business model, Elizabeth Holmes may be the most controversial Steve Jobs impersonator yet!

Source: Business Insider