Bozoma Saint John Explains Why She Left Uber

Endeavor's Chief Marketing Officer gave an enthusiastic and inspiring talk at SXSW on Wednesday.

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.”

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • A pair of handcuffs

    D.C. Concert Biz Heavyweight Seth Hurwitz Arrested for Solicitation

    Seth Hurwitz, a highly regarded figure in the Washington, D.C. concert scene, was arrested Wednesday on solicitation of prostitution after a massage therapist who felt harassed by Hurwitz helped police set up a bust. Hurwitz, owner of the 9:30 Club and Anthem venues and chairman of the Merriweather Post Pavilion, was released on $5,000 bond [...]

  • Major Lazer Fortnite

    Major Lazer Remixes Fortnite Soundtrack and Releases New In-Game Skins

    Major Lazer, one of Diplo’s many creative outlets, has teamed up with Fortnite to offer fans access to a unique character skin and new remixes of the game’s Default Dance track. The Lazerism set includes the Major Lazer Outfit, Lazer Wings, Lazer Aze, the Lazer Blast emote and the EDM group’s remix of the “Default [...]

  • Succession HBO

    'Succession' Composer Nicholas Britell on Making Music for the One Percent

    The Roys, the media empire family at the heart of HBO’s “Succession,” are ridiculously rich. They’re manipulative and cruel. They’re also a bit delusional and absurd. When Nicholas Britell conceived the show’s score, he wanted to capture all of that. “I wrote in this almost late-1700s, dark classical zone,” says Britell, the Oscar-nominated composer of [...]

  • Fred Durst attends the LA premiere

    Fred Durst Has No Woodstock '99 Regrets: 'Limp Bizkit Is an Easy Target So Bring it On'

    Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst is finally talking about Woodstock ’99 — the second anniversary of the 1969 festival that offered throngs of attendees a polar opposite experience to peace, love and mellow music. Now the stuff of legend — and a stellar multi-episode podcast series from The Ringer called “Break Stuff” — riots, fires [...]

  • Album Review: Jay Som's 'Anak Ko'

    Album Review: Jay Som's 'Anak Ko'

    If ever there was an album that could have come out at any point in the last 25 years, it’s Jay Som’s sophomore outing, “Anak Ko.” A mesh of multiple indie-rock influences, its low-key intensity, hushed vocals and emphasis on strong melodies could have placed it alongside Lush or the Boo Radleys on 4AD or [...]

  • Editorial use only Mandatory Credit: Photo

    Moody Blues' Justin Hayward Isn't Burning Up Over What Got Lost in the Fire

    Nobody called Justin Hayward about the fire on the Universal Studios Hollywood lot — not Universal Music Group, certainly, but also no reporters. “There were much more important people to call or to speak about that,” Hayward says, in his typically self-effacing, English way. The New York Timesrecently blew the lid off of the 2008 [...]

  • Album Review: Brockhampton's 'Ginger'

    Album Review: Brockhampton's 'Ginger'

    It is a testament to the sheer creative force and prolific output of their last two breakout years that, though the members are only in their early 20s, Brockhampton has settled into a kind of artistic maturity on their new record, “Ginger.” In 2017, Brockhampton burst into the hip-hop consciousness offering a bold paradigm shift [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content