Elizabeth Holmes founded Theranos - a blood-testing technology company - in 2003, when she was 19. She is facing 12 charges of fraud. (Illustration: Moneycontrol)
An Indian-American is contributing towards finding justice in the Elizabeth Holmes trial. Her name is Surekha Gangakhedkar.
Gangakhedkar was a senior scientist at Theranos, the blood-testing firm founded by Holmes. She testified in court in San Jose on September 17 that Holmes pushed her to approve tests of the company’s Edison machines, even though they weren’t accurate.
Not in agreement with Theranos’ methods, Gangakhedkar resigned in September 2013, after eight years at the company. In a meeting with Holmes, she explained her reasons for leaving. In response, Holmes said they had made a promise to customers and had to roll out the product regardless of its performance.
“At that time she mentioned that she has promised to deliver to the customers and didn’t have much of a choice then to go ahead with the launch,” Gangakhedkar, who now works at molecular diagnostics company Cepheid, said in court.
Additionally, she said, “I was very stressed and unhappy and concerned with the way the launch was going. I was not comfortable with the plans that they had in place, so I made a decision to resign and not continue working there.”
Ethics apart, the hours at Theranos were brutal too. Employees would sleep in cars as they toiled to make the deadline. And there was insinuation from Holmes’ partner and one-time lover, Sunny Balwani, that Gangakhedkar’s team wasn’t working hard enough.
According to theverge.com, Balwani once wrote in an email to Gangakhedkar, “Please note the software team was here till 3:07AM—and is already here now at 10AM.” He then reprimanded Gangakhedkar’s team for leaving machines idle in the evenings.
Concerned about legal implications for her in case Theranos got into trouble, Gangakhedkar printed some documents and emails and took them home when she resigned. She said she was “worried about the launch, I was actually scared that if things do not go well I would be blamed”.
Though by definition Gangakhedkar violated an NDA she had signed, she was granted immunity from criminal charges in exchange for her testimony.
According to Gangakhedkar’s LinkedIn page, she is an MBA from the University of North Carolina. She also has an MS in Chemistry from the University of San Jose. Prior to that, she did BSc at Osmania University.
Gangakhedkar resigned from Theranos five days after getting the 1 am email from Holmes. “It was difficult because the last eight years of working at Theranos I felt that I was going to make a difference,” Gangakhedkar said. It was a “huge letdown”, she said, that her hard work was going to waste.
Meanwhile, Theranos’ lawyers are taking the line that their client was a driven woman who made mistakes, but did not commit a crime. Not many would agree with that thought.