Late Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs and former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes share something far more important than their preference for black turtlenecks, says Alex Gibney, the director of a recent documentary on Holmes called “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.”
“The most interesting thing about Steve Jobs—and something he shares with Elizabeth Holmes—is that he was a storyteller,” Gibney says. “That, I think, was his great talent.”
“He wasn't an inventor in the mechanical sense of the word. He was an inventor in the way he kind of made up stories that people liked to consume,” the Oscar-winning director Gibney adds of Jobs.
Offering an example, Gibney cited the phrase “1,000 songs in your pocket,” which Jobs used to describe the iPod music player.
Holmes, indicted last June on charges of defrauding investors for misrepresenting the effectiveness of a blood testing machine produced by her company, had a well-documented obsession with Jobs.
Not only did she mimic his wardrobe, but she also adopted his management techniques and sought to hang the Apple flag at half-mast on the day of his death, as described by journalist John Carreyrou in “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup.”
“She presented herself as this very young dropout. She starts her company,” Gibney says. “She's brilliant and she makes something of herself, and now she's a billionaire and she's the next Steve Jobs. All that seems so compelling. But the idea that that was all somehow a fraud is fascinating to people.”
Gibney made the remarks to Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a conversation that aired on Yahoo Finance on Thursday at 5 p.m. EST in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
In 2005, Gibney came to prominence with “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” an Oscar-nominated documentary on the fall of Enron. He won an Oscar a few years later, in 2008, for “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which examined the U.S. torture program during the Afghanistan war.
Recently, Gibney produced the Netflix documentary series “Dirty Money” and directed “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” which was released by HBO in March.
‘What he got right and what Elizabeth Holmes got wrong, is he learned from mistakes’
Gibney said while Holmes and Jobs shared a talent for storytelling, a crucial difference between them resulted in Jobs’s success.
“What he got right and what Elizabeth Holmes got wrong, is he learned from mistakes, ultimately,” Gibney says.
“Apple 2.0, the Apple that gave us the iPhone and the iPad and all of that, really came out of a number of terrible mistakes,” Gibney adds. “Steve Jobs learned over time that he wasn't perfect and he wasn't all-powerful, and that he needed to surround himself with a core group of people who really knew what they were doing.”
Gibney said Holmes followed tech leaders like Jobs, who exaggerated their achievements until their ventures succeeded.
“She's part of a tradition of fake it till you make it, which to some extent is celebrated in Silicon Valley, but not so much when it comes to medical devices that can actually affect the health of people,” Gibney says.
Holmes, who founded Theranos at age 19, raised over $700 million in funding between 2013 and 2015, achieving a company valuation of $9 billion. However, in October 2015, the Wall Street Journal revealed that the blood test product manufactured by Theranos did not work nearly as well as the company had indicated.
Holmes pleaded not guilty to charges of defrauding investors, and awaits trial. A date has not been set.
Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance.