While Bozoma Saint John became rather famous after her memorable address at Apple’s WWDC in 2016, her most recent job transition may have been the most newsworthy. She left Apple in 2017 amid great fanfare to become Chief Brand Officer at Uber, and left that gig almost a year to day later for her current position as Chief Marketing Officer at Endeavor. The move left many business insiders scratching their heads because the veteran marketing executive had been so publically enthusiastic about the Uber gig and affecting change at the troubled company, which had been plagued by incidents of sexual harassment. Nearly a year after that transition, she spoke about the subject during an enthusiastic and affirming talk with model (and Endeavor client) Ashley Graham Wednesday at SXSW.
However, the Uber question almost went unasked: During the audience Q&A segment of the talk, Graham signaled that she intended to skip it. But Saint John said, “I don’t mind the questions — this is truth. These are the moments in our businesses and our lives,” and continued.
“When I got to Uber I was honest in my desire to go and change essentially what I thought was a challenging environment, especially for women and for people of color,” she said. “What I discovered was a lot of people who had a desire to do better, honestly, but couldn’t get out of their own way.
“At some point it became too overwhelming for me,” she concluded. “It became a good lesson for all of us: You don’t need to be the savior, you can save yourself too.”
It was one of many honest answers in an empowering, inspirational hour-long conversation between two women who clearly have a friendship that extends past their worklives (at various points, each of them joked about texting the other to get details they couldn’t write down at the panel). St. John discussed her childhood in Africa and how it shaped her love for pop culture as a teenager, referencing her passion for Paula Abdul’s legendary “Opposites Attract” video as a way she related to teenagers when she moved back to Colorado Springs after her childhood in Ghana. Though it was a bit freewheeling, the ostensible subject of the conversation was about predicting what’s next in pop culture; on that point, Saint John said, “Put your hand in the air and feel the wind,” she said. “Start paying attention to what people are talking about — what they’re emotionally reacting to.”
While the discussion ranged from how companies can bring in more diverse voices to who her favorite influencers are, Saint John’s most affecting quote may have been her closing one. At a job-performance review in 2013 — after working with Beyonce on her culture-defining Super Bowl halftime show — St. John’s boss at Pepsi told her she wasn’t hitting enough home runs.
After that, she said, “I bought myself a Louisville Slugger. I wanted to keep it in my office to remind me that I do hit home runs. [And when I do,] I’m gonna cheer for myself: ‘The crowd goes wild!’ Since that day, and every day afterward, I’mma praise myself and support myself, and be happy in the moment.”