During her three years as head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music, Bozoma Saint John used her branding prowess to tap into powerful partnerships (see: an ad that featured Taylor Swift falling off a treadmill while listening to Drake and Future’s “Jumpman”) that helped Apple launch its streaming platform and grow it to 20 million subscribers by the end of 2016.
After joining Uber in June as its first chief brand officer, she’s now helping another high-profile company navigate an inflection point: It’s her job to overhaul the company’s image. “I see myself as chief storyteller,” Saint John says. “There are certainly things that have happened [at Uber] that [we] want to change . . . I want people to see the humanity in the tech.”
Her first brand campaign premiered in September as part of the company’s partnership with the NFL. Starting with the Kansas City Chiefs versus the New England Patriots game, Uber is airing 17 regional TV spots during the season. The 15-second commercials feature local super fans who happen to be Uber drivers.
This year has been turbulent for Uber. Allegations of sexual harassment led to the firing of more than 20 employees. CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down in June. Before he did, the company hired Saint John, a marketing veteran who spent years at PepsiCo and Ashley Stewart.
She’s now one of several women working to course-correct the company, along with board member Arianna Huffington and SVP of leadership and strategy Frances Frei. Saint John sees similarities between Uber and the music world she hails from, which she plans to draw on in turning the company around.
“Music inspires some feeling in you,” she says. “That’s the same way I think about Uber.” Once, she was stranded in India and felt relief when she opened up Uber and saw a car available. “I’m not the only person in the world who has experienced that. It’s about finding those similar threads.”
Advice She’d Give Her Younger Self
“Don’t make pro and con lists. It’s a waste of time. You gotta go with your gut. It will never steer you wrong.”
Recent Album She’s Been Loving
“Solange, A Seat at the Table. That is the jam. Oh, my God. It’s so beautiful. The entire [album], not just one single.”
Who Would Be On Her List Of Most Creative People
“Kris Jenner. She has taken the story lines of her children and turned them into something that is pop-culturally relevant. They are now undeniable. It’s a master class [in marketing].”
How She Stays Productive
“I always do what I’m most interested in first. It’s a meal, and I get to the salad last. I have no problem with dessert first.”