When a company is in the process of hiring a potential employee, they go through a number of predictable steps. They look at her resume, her CV, contact her previous employers. And during the interview, they’ll ask some variation of, “What have you accomplished in the past?” and “What can you contribute to our company?” Or, to summarize in a single question, “Why should we hire you?”
For Bozoma Saint John, these questions were probably irrelevant. They should have been “What haven’t you done?” and “Why wouldn’t we hire you?” Here is just a small list of her accolades, not including the high-ranking positions listed on her LinkedIn.
- Named Executive of the Year at Billboard’s Women in Music Awards
- First recipient of the Rockstar Award from Adcolor
- Named one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People
- Inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Achievement
- First Black woman to be onstage at the Apple Developers’ Conference (2016)
Numerous news articles hail Saint John as a “unicorn”, as she is one of a handful of black female C-suite executives in the tech industry. Her life has always been categorized by change and taking risks. She was born in Ghana, but fled for political asylum to Colorado Springs after a coup-d’etat in her native country. Growing up “different,” she learned to make friends through her extensive knowledge of pop culture. That same passion for pop is what got her to where she is today.
Saint John studied English and African American studies at Wesleyan University, and was preparing to go to medical school once she graduated, but took a year off. In that year, everything changed. While she was working at a temp agency in New York, she was hired by Spike Lee’s advertising agency, Spike DDB, as an assistant. There she worked on ads with high-profile clients, like the 2002 Pepsi ad with Beyonce.
In 2005, Saint John was hired by PepsiCo. She helped arrange multi-million endorsement deals with celebrities like Eminem and Nicki Minaj. She secured five different deals with Beyonce, including her half-time performance at the 2013 Super Bowl. Back then, that deal was the highlight of her career.
Later that same year, her husband passed away from cancer. She was left to raise a four year-old daughter. At what was probably the most difficult part of her life thus far, Saint John picked herself up, dusted herself off, and looked to the future. She found it in the music streaming industry. When she received an offer from Beats Music founder Dr. Dre, she took a leap of faith and accepted the position as the head of global marketing. And when Apple acquired Beats, she moved up the ranks and took the position of head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music, working on ads featuring big names like Kerry Washington, Drake and Taylor Swift. In a market where competitors like Spotify already have an upper hand, making Apple Music a big name was no easy feat. According to a Billboard article, the streaming service had received over 20 million paid subscribers since Saint John was hired.
Working for Apple was Saint John’s chance to combine her love for storytelling with business, which is something she had wanted to do since she majored in English. As a woman in her high-profile position, she used her voice to positively influence the mainstream media perception of people of color.
But despite all these accomplishments, the job that Saint John most recently accepted is what many fear is a fruitless one: Uber’s chief brand officer. In this position, Saint John will have to not only fix the internal culture at Uber, but also change the way the company is perceived by the general public. With the number of problems that Uber is having right now, many believe that the company should be left for dead.
Saint John, however, feels differently. The New York Times did a profile on Saint John and asked her a question about the challenges of her new job, to which she replied,“I don’t see a difference between the evolution of where the music industry was going and how to evolve people’s listening habits and, now, how to evolve people’s feelings around ride sharing and Uber.”
In an interview with Glamour, she relays the impact she wishes to impart on the company: “There’s no more exciting moment for me as a brand strategist than a turnaround…We want to make sure women feel empowered, safe, and excited about their work. And being a change agent means being fearless. Uber will never be the same after I leave.”
As a young teen who had just moved from Ghana, she stood out for many reasons back in her high school in Colorado; the color of her skin, her hair, her clothes. Today she stands out because of her bold, fearless personality, her willingness to take risks and her ability to be her whole self unabashedly. As she blazes a trail of success, she leaves it paved for countless women after her. Bozoma Saint John is the first of many.