Uber’s brand new Chief Branding Officer, Bozoma Saint John, became an official Silicon Valley celebrity when she was interviewed by iconic tech journalist Kara Swisher at the Recode Code Commerce event in New York City on Thursday.
During the interview, Swisher, accompanied by Recode reporter Johana Bhuiyan, asked Saint John about her day-to-day at Uber; her thoughts on the recently announced new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi; and whether Saint John is perceived as someone tasked with “cleaning up the mess” that is Uber’s tarnished reputation.
(L-R: Saint John, Bhuiyan, and Swisher. Image: YouTube/Recode)
The discussion began with Saint John outlining how she got into work mode at Uber. “I didn’t have time to think about what I wanted to do,” she said, “I almost immediately had to get to work.” Saint John was hired in a somewhat surprising move to Uber after working at Apple Music as a marketing executive.
She also says part of her daily task is “understanding the landscape” at Uber. “What are the important stories to tell and who are we actually talking to…?” are questions Saint John sought answers to upon her hiring.
Saint John also revealed that despite the many challenges surrounding Uber, including accusations of sexual harassment and a toxic work environment, that by interacting with the many people who work for the company, she found an environment that was “very different.”
“I talked to people, I walked around….there are things happening on a daily basis, she said.
She said she left Apple and was eager for the branding challenge Uber poses. “On the professional front, there are just so few times where I feel a brand person can come into a situation and literally put their stamp on something,” she said. “I don’t want to run from any situation, I don’t want to feel like I don’t belong someplace. So, I feel if we can fix that thing—if [Uber] can do it then so can every place else.”
Swisher pressed Saint John for specifics on how to fix Uber’s broken reputation. “You can’t really sell, ‘Now with 100% less sexual harassment,'” quipped Swisher. Saint John said one way is through “multifaceted storytelling” and through communication. “You have people talk about it in situations like this,” [the ‘it’ referring to Uber’s PR issues] in having our leadership talk about it in public spaces.”
On being dismissed as a public relations “token,” a black woman cast in the role to give Uber a PR boost Saint John was resolute:
“I can’t think that way otherwise I would be angry all the time. Not that I am Disney-fying it—clearly, I have something to prove.” Saint John said that in fact she has a bar set for her at a much higher level because she is a black woman.
Saint John will be honored at this year’s Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit as Corporate Executive of the Year. She will also take part in an exclusive fireside chat at the summit.
Watch the entire interview with Bozoma Saint John which includes her thoughts on the new Uber CEO (she found out on Twitter) and whether she will purchase the new $1,000 iPhone X.