As the public launch for Theranos, a blood testing lab founded by Elizabeth Holmes, launched this week in Palo Alto, California, attention has focused on the biopharmaceutical executive who announced that he is standing in as Holmes’s co-CEO with no additional cash to fall back on.
It was known that Elizabeth’s former boyfriend and quiet advisor Billy Edwards will be giving her important public appearances, but it wasn’t until Tuesday that he made his first major public statements since June, when he also announced his plans to act as co-CEO alongside Holmes.
During a conference call with journalists, Edwards discussed his background, where he sits in Theranos’ hierarchy, and why he would stand alongside Holmes in a co-CEO role.
As you can imagine, many scientists were skeptical and one of them was Elizabeth herself.
During the call, Edwards defended Holmes on several different fronts, drawing on her academic and scientific background and her fall from grace. At one point, he asked for Holmes’s loyalists to remember her diverse work that included being a physics PhD, developing a record of entrepreneurship, and devoting herself to charitable work.
Despite all of that, Holmes said, Theranos is still aiming to change the paradigm for medical testing. “There is a lot of high-class hypocrisy,” said Andrew Wallenstein, the CEO of Fortune and a frequent writer on Theranos. “It’s a mistake to portray her as a vengeful CEO who wants to destroy everybody, because she is genuinely remorseful. That is a compelling story, and she really can say, ‘this is the price of doing good.’ And that is what she’s still trying to convince people.”
What makes Edwards unique in this role, Wallenstein and others said, is the way he acts behind the scenes.
When Amazon floated the idea of bringing its second headquarters to New York, Fortune asked Edwards to put together a pitch for the city’s richest citizens. While many professors stepped up to address the matter, Edwards didn’t even give an interview. When an outlet approached him about being part of the group and would speak with him, he was initially reluctant, but he eventually agreed.
The Politico profile of Edwards said that he was never offered a job by Bloomberg or Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bloomberg’s philanthropic arm, but he does have a strong relationship with them.
“It was all facilitated by Billy,” said Travis Stork, the CEO of MDL Capital and a co-founder of the Mission Continues. “It was something that was pushed on me by my friendship with Billy, who had been with Elizabeth for years.”
Neither Theranos nor Elizabeth Holmes could be reached for comment.