From Cover to Court: Why Are Forbes’ Young Icons Failing?

“Every morning I get up and look through the Forbes list of the richest people in America. If I’m not there, I go to work.” Robert Orben said.

Over the years, Forbes magazine’s list of billionaires has become a symbol of success and wealth, and with the Forbes 30 Under 30, many young entrepreneurs around the world aspire to have their names on Forbes’ annual list. However, in recent years, an alarming trend has emerged, with an increasing number of Forbes icons now facing prison time.

Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and CEO of the now-defunct health technology company Theranos, is among the notable names on this list. In 2014, Holmes, who was once likened to Steve Jobs, founded Theranos, a company that was supposed to bring about a revolution in diagnosing disease.

Theranos, a blood-testing startup pitching a supposedly revolutionary technology, was flying high. While existing technology required one vial of blood for each diagnostic test conducted,
Theranos claimed to be able to perform hundreds of tests, from cholesterol levels to complex genetic analysis, with only a few drops of blood and no needles.

Holmes, who had famously dropped out of Stanford to found the company using her tuition money, was just 30 when Theranos was at its peak.

Having raised over $700 million in investment from the likes of Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, the company had become the rising star of Silicon Valley and was valued at over $9 billion, while Holmes, with a share of more than half that, was likened as the female Steve Jobs.

Theranos appeared to be offering technology that could revolutionise medicine and save lives all over the world, as it was automated, fast, and cheap, but by 2015, the seams were fraying, and Holmes was exposed as a forger within a year.

The technology Holmes promoted was completely ineffective, and the company she founded went bankrupt in 2018. Last year, 2022 Federal Judge Edward Davila sentenced her to 11 years and 3 months in prison, saying, “Failure is normal. but failure by fraud is not OK.”

Other names on the list include John Kapoor, the founder of Insys Therapeutics, who was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for his role in a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe opioids.

Nigerian Obinwanne Okeke, the founder of Invictus Group, who was sentenced to ten years in prison for fraud, is another testament that being on the cover of Forbes is not a definitive indicator of clean success.

This raises the question of whether millennials are pressured to commit fraud to make the Forbes list. Of course, the issue here isn’t Forbes; it’s the distorted vision of success, as well as the fetishization of youth.

These examples show both the dangers of unchecked ambition and the true cost of success. We will delve into the darker side of entrepreneurship and the reasons why so many young billionaires, including these Nigerian Forbes list heroes, are now facing incarceration.

The pressure to succeed at all costs is one reason for the rise in young billionaires facing prison time.

Entrepreneurs may feel compelled to take risks and cut corners to get ahead in a highly competitive business world. As a result, unethical behaviour such as fraud, insider trading, and money laundering may occur. The desire for instant gratification, combined with the fear of failure, may lead some entrepreneurs to engage in illegal activities, jeopardising their reputation and freedom.

Another reason is that some industries do not have adequate oversight and regulation. Entrepreneurs may be able to engage in illegal activities with relative ease in countries where corruption is prevalent. This is especially true if they have connections to powerful individuals or institutions that can shield them from prosecution.

Due to a lack of accountability and transparency in such environments, entrepreneurs may engage in unethical practices without fear of repercussions. Furthermore, the pressure to maintain a lavish lifestyle can also lead to illegal activities.

Many young billionaires are under immense pressure to maintain a certain standard of living, which can drive them to engage in fraudulent activities. This is especially true if they are living beyond their means or are trying to keep up with other rich and famous individuals.

In conclusion, the darker side of entrepreneurship is a complex issue that is driven by a variety of factors, including the pressure to succeed, a lack of oversight and regulation, and the pressure to maintain a lavish lifestyle. While ambition and hard work are important for success, entrepreneurs must also be mindful of their actions' ethical and legal implications. Ultimately, the pursuit of wealth and success should not come at the cost of one’s reputation and freedom.


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