Who is Sunny Balwani?

Former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes has accused her number-two of psychological and sexual abuse, yet little is known about him and his motives.

Snigdha Sur

December 14, 2021

Who is Sunny Balwani?
Former Theranos COO Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani leaves the Robert F. Peckham U.S. Federal Court on June 28, 2019 in San Jose, California after a status hearing (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“I will not assume that people will do the right or noble thing. They are not motivated by what I am motivated by. I will learn what makes them tick and use that as bait to motivate them,” wrote Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani to Elizabeth Holmes, then the founder of hot Silicon Valley-backed blood testing tech company Theranos, as he advised her on her company. “Success in business is a science, not an art or black magic...there are definite, repeatable scientific patterns to success in business.”

Between 2005 and 2016, when Balwani wrote these notes, Holmes would raise over $700 million and hire hundreds of people. Theranos would be worth $9 billion at its peak, its founder’s face splashed on the covers of Fortune and other magazines. But behind that veneer was a web of lies: Theranos devices couldn’t run the usual litany of blood tests on just a drop of blood as the company and its founder promised. In fact, most of the results were wrong, leading to misdiagnoses for its patients. 

Though the media spotlight has firmly been on the blonde, blue-eyed woman — who infamously dropped out of Stanford at age 19 to start a company based on a patent and became a billionaire on paper — many know little about Balwani. Both Holmes and Balwani face federal criminal charges: several counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, including deceptive representations about their company and its technology (each count carries 20 years in prison). Both have pleaded not guilty. But in anticipation of the two turning on one another, the judge presiding over the case, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila, has separated the duo into different trials.