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No Plan B for this young billionaire

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

When planning for the future, most CEOs think in terms of contingencies. Not Elizabeth Holmes.

As founder and CEO of Theranos, a health technology company, Holmes rejects the notion of crafting a Plan B. She prefers to stick to Plan A at all costs.

“The minute that you have a backup plan, you’ve admitted that you’re not going to succeed,” she says.

At age 31, Holmes is the ­youngest self-made female billionaire. Her Palo Alto, Calif.-based firm, which she launched in 2003, has 700 employees.

Holmes admits that she’s an outlier and doesn’t advise others to emulate her draconian leadership style. She works seven days a week, imposes strict limits on the hours of sleep she gets and avoids meat and caffeine. She never takes vacations and acknowledges she lacks a personal life outside work.

To offset her relative inexperience in the business world, Holmes has surrounded herself with seasoned pros. Her board of directors includes an elite group of heavy hitters, from two former U.S. secretaries of state to former CEOs of huge corporations.

Because Holmes operates in a new industry involving cutting-edge health technology breakthroughs, she views failure as routine. She uses a baseball analogy with her employees.

“Our approach is to take the most swings at the bat,” she tells them. “We’ll get the most home runs, we’ll also get the most strikeouts, and we’re just not going to make the same mistake twice.”

— Adapted from “Elizabeth Holmes: ‘I Wasn’t Weighted by Influences That I Couldn’t Do It,’” Deborah Petersen, www.gsb.stanford.edu.

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