Age: 56 Years, 56 Year Old Males
Also Known As: Ramesh Sunny Balwani
Famous as: CEO of Theranos
Height: 5'7" (170 cm), 5'7" Males
Spouse/Ex-: Keiko Fujimoto (m. ? – div. 2002)
Partner: Elizabeth Holmes
education: The University of Texas at Austin, University of California, Berkeley
Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani is a Pakistani-American former executive. He served as the president and chief operating officer at Theranos, a privately held health technology company that made false claims of creating a new blood test procedure in which a very small amount of sample is needed. A native of Pakistan, Balwani came to the United States in 1986 and attended the University of Texas at Austin. After earning an undergraduate degree from there, he worked in the technology sector for several years, co-founding the software development company CommerceBid.com. In the early 2000s, he returned to school to pursue an M.B.A. degree from the University of California, Berkeley. It was there that he met his future girlfriend and collaborator, Elizabeth Holmes. Theranos was founded by Holmes in 2003, and in 2009, Balwani joined the company as its COO and president. In 2015, the company began to attract criticism for its unsubstantiated claims and dubious practices. In March 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Balwani with four violations of the US Security Act. Three months later, US federal prosecutors indicted him and Holmes for fraud and conspiracy.
Childhood & Early Life
Ramesh Balwani was born in Pakistan between March and June of 1965. Some sources claim that he was born in Mumbai, India, but this is incorrect. Little is known about his life prior to his relocation to the United States.
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Education & Early Career
In 1986, Ramesh Balwani came to the US to pursue an undergraduate degree in information system from the University of Texas at Austin. He was part of the Pakistani Student Association there.
After leaving university, he was employed at Lotus Software and Microsoft. He subsequently set up CommerceBid.com with several others. A software development company, CommerceBid.com provided support to other businesses in purchasing and selling items online.
In 1999, CommerceBid.com was bought by Commerce One, a rival B2B e-commerce company whose stock value was quite high. In fact, the purchase was made entirely with stock. Balwani subsequently became part of the board of the new company.
In 2000, he sold his shares in Commerce One and made about $40 million right before the dot com bubble popped. Shortly after, the company shut down.
In the early 2000s, Balwani was financially secure and decided to go back to school for a Master of Business Administration degree. He enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley and earned his degree in 2003. He then joined a computer science graduate program at Stanford University. After being affiliated with the program for four years, he left without finishing it in 2008.
Career at Theranos
Ramesh Balwani and Elizabeth Holmes became acquainted while he was attending Berkeley. She is 19 years younger than him and was a high school student at the time. They visited Beijing, China, together for a summer to participate in Stanford's Summer Mandarin Course cohort.
Holmes established Theranos in 2003 and served as its chief executive officer until 2018. In 2009, Balwani was brought in as the president and chief operating officer. He took control of day-to-day operations soon after.
Balwani had never received any training in biological sciences and medical devices, and this soon began to cause problems. The company’s board did not have any other medical expert either.
Balwani’s behaviour towards Theranos’ employees was also problematic. According to them, he was overbearing, uncompromising, and demanding. He was also extremely anxious about corporate espionage and tried to maintain paranoid-level secrecy in company matters.
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Among the technologies that Theranos claimed to have developed were devices that would automate and miniaturize blood tests by making use of microscopic blood volumes. They named the device’s blood collection vessel the “nanotainer” and its analysis machine the “Edison”. Balwani went as far comparing the device to the discovery of antibiotics.
He was often the subject of ridicule within Theranos for his incorrect pronunciation of technical terms. Many of the employees believed that by using the words of which he did not know the meaning, he was simply trying to appear more knowledgeable than he actually was.
According to a report published in the ‘Wall Street Journal’ in October 2015, Theranos’ Edison blood testing device gives incorrect medical diagnosis and results. It could not pass several quality-control checks and gave severely inconsistent results. This was further proven in March 2016 by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in their inspection results.
In April 2016, the company was compelled to invalidate all the test results from the machines for 2014 and 2015. Furthermore, they also had to invalidate the results of several other tests, despite running them on conventional machines.
After performing an inspection of Theranos’ Newark, California, laboratory, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) gave the company a warning through a letter in January 2016. They suggested that a two-year ban should be imposed on Balwani from owning or operating a blood lab as the company could not rectify the issues in their California lab.
Theranos was also accused of making several false claims, including of a $100 million revenue stream, which, in reality, was $100,000. They also stated that their technology was being utilized on the battlefield by the U.S. Department of Defense. This was a false statement as well. In May 2016, Balwani vacated his positions as the president and COO of the company.
On March 14, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed charges of massive fraud against Balwani, Theranos and Holmes. Balwani faced four claims for violations of the US Security Act.
One of the allegations The SEC made against him was that he “concentrated on developing software for Theranos’ technology and managing personnel and operations...and collaborated closely with [Holmes] and made decisions about the company together.” The SEC also accused him of deceiving and misleading pharmacies, grocery stores, and investors.
The SEC’s charges against Theranos also involved the company’s dealings with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to the SEC, Balwani made false statements about Theranos not needing FDA approval or clearance.
Holmes eventually settled with the SEC and agreed to pay $500,000. She also had to give up 19 million shares of company stock and has been prohibited from holding a leadership position at any public company. Balwani, on the other hand, decided not to settle.
On June 15, 2018, after a two-year investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco, Balwani and Holmes were charged with nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud by a federal grand jury. According to the prosecutors, Balwani and Holmes committed two criminal schemes: defrauding investors and defrauding doctors and patients.
At present, the case is being presided over by a judge in the US District Court in San Jose. Both Balwani and Holmes have responded to the indictment by pleading not guilty. Balwani maintains that as he did not earn any money while he was affiliated with Theranos, he cannot be charged with defrauding investors.
Family & Personal Life
Ramesh Balwani was once married to Japanese artist Keiko Fujimoto. They resided in San Francisco until their divorce in 2002. Balwani had been in a relationship with Elizabeth Holmes for a long while. When they met, he was 37 and she was 18 years old. From 2009 to 2016, he served directly under Holmes at Theranos.