Uber has some PR challenges. Though I’m wary of the dramatised press portraits of all big brands, throughout 2017 Uber kept drawing attention to itself as the worst of a bad bunch. From associations with Donald Trump, to an abusive CEO, they were doing a much better job of proving the papers right than they were at silencing the noise. It was time for a radical change which began with a senior shake-up. Many Silicon Valley guns ‘left’ the board and that CEO, Travis Kalanick, resigned from his role leaving a vacuum for change.
Next, they needed a face. Someone who understood the expectations of consumers and who had the drive to meet them. Someone who would seduce the press in the process. Enter Bozoma Saint John, “Head of Brand”. With a background in entertainment marketing for Apple and Pepsi, Bozoma had the right creds. She is young for such a grand title meaning she understands a world the old hats didn’t seem to care for. Sceptics would say, she is black and female and ticks a diversity box and they would be right… but she is SO MUCH more than that. She is brilliant. She interviewed on the Tim Ferris Show and came across as having the perfect balance of approachability and wisdom. A fantasy mentor figure for ambitious professionals of all backgrounds who, regardless of field, want to push that little bit harder than everyone else. Below are some of the key lessons we can learn from her, which I hope you find as charming as I did.
On being the change you wish to see in the world…
“We spend far too much time complaining about the way things are and forget that we have the power to change anything and everything.”
“Let’s count the black women in C-suite positions in Silicon Valley. Do you know any? So an opportunity comes — I must take it. I must take it. Because first of all, I do have something to prove. I have to hold the door.”
On being a bad-ass-boss-mum…
“We have abilities to do more than one thing. We’re complex human beings. I can wear a leather dress and still have an 8-year-old and wipe up the eggs that are on her face.”
On knowing what you want…
When asked why she first left her first job at Pepsi, her response was that, relative to her ambitions, there wasn’t the opportunity for growth. In her words: “I quit because…I was a brand manager and there was a very specific way that Pepsi organised its marketing team… you had a particular set of responsibilities and you couldn’t really stretch outside of those… and I thought, if I stay here I’m gonna be some middle management person with no excitement and not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just wasn’t for me. I wanted to do more.”
On making her husband work for it…
After some minor stalking at their shared office, her (soon to be) husband, Peter, plucked up the courage to ask Bozoma out during the lunch queue – movie moment?
[The approach] Peter: “I would love to get to know you better”
[The response] Bozoma: “Alright, if you want to get to know me better you should read Toni Morrisson’s ‘Song of Solomon’ and then we can talk about it.”
Safe to say he did.
On challenging yourself…
“Nobody knew what in the hell we were doing. Everybody’s making it up. It’s called ‘innovation’: That’s the fancy word for ‘making s— up.'”
“I wasn’t quite sure I could reach that bar but I was going to stretch it anyway.”
“If I always did what I was qualified to do, I’d be pushing a broom somewhere” – Naval Ravikant
On dealing with grief….
Bozoma lost her husband to cancer and has had to go through that grieving process of losing someone you planned to always have by your side.
“I realised… this type of love doesn’t come around often. The very lucky only really get it once. It’s important to appreciate it…The grief was not just about losing him, but also about forgiving myself”
“Things can change, but always appreciate the greatest gifts you are given”
Bozoma talks to the fact that through dealing with grief, she learnt that anger is useless: “You can still get a lot of things done without so much chaos in your wake”.
**For further perspective on ways of viewing loss and death, I’d encourage reading ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi and the documentary ‘Be Here Now’ which follows the journey of Spartacus actor Andy Whitfield as he battles with cancer.
On being the best…
“At the end of the day, you have to bring all of the work — the work that you’ve done that’s more in-depth, tighter, more brilliant than anybody else can bring. Because that’s the only way to ensure that you actually get the next shot, and the next chance.”
On positive re-invention…
Bozoma’s pinned tweet on Twitter is the below quote …
“YOU MUST BE READY TO BURN YOURSELF IN YOUR OWN FLAME, HOW COULD YOU RISE ANEW IF YOU HAVE NOT FIRST BECOME ASHES” – FRIEDRICH NIETZCHE
She explains how it resonates with her, having found “Starting over is always better than where I came from”. I interpret this, not to be about needing huge change, so much as being aware that you always have the power to recreate who you are.
For more about Bozoma you can catch her on Insta: @badassboz
Lexy is a writer, DJ and marketing professional living in London. She is a gemini and a feminist who loves coffee and leopard print. Instagram.com/lexonthedecks