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The Woman who is expected to save Uber . Bozoma Saint John companies first CBO

12 Jan 2018 12:56 PM | Anonymous

“Everybody was like: ‘What’s happening? Is this your date? I don’t understand. Why is this guy here?’” Ms. Saint John said. “It was such a beautiful, human moment,” one that was chronicled on her Instagram account, @badassboz, where she has more than 40,000 followers.

“We’re all rushing in our lives, and I was so concerned with getting from here to there, and if not for the moment of humanity where we just started talking, that connection would not have happened,” she said. “What a miss that would have been. What a miss!”

This story was part of what convinced Arianna Huffington, a founder of The Huffington Post and a high-profile member of Uber’s board, that Ms. Saint John was the right person to shepherd Uber out of its recent thicket of legal and ethical scandals.


From left, Andra Day, Lisa Vanderpump and Ms. Saint John at the Women of Influence Awards in 2016.CreditMatt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

The two women first met at a dinner in Las Vegas last January hosted by Kristin Lemkau, the chief marketing officer of JPMorgan Chase. “We had an instant connection,” Ms. Huffington said. That night, she posted a photo of herself with her arm around a beaming Ms. Saint John on Instagram with the hashtag #thecoolkidsdinner.” The next month, Ms. Huffington attended Ms. Saint John’s 40th birthday party in Los Angeles. (Another Instagram opportunity: “Hard to imagine what she’ll do by 50!” she posted.)

“Sometimes it takes you months to get to know someone,” Ms. Huffington said. “With her, I felt like she has this incredible capacity for intimacy and for sharing her story and for sharing others’ stories.”

And, Ms. Huffington said, “She’s great at social media.”

Indeed, while women have long feared that putting family pictures on their desks might impede their climb up the corporate ladder, Ms. Saint John has broken the glass frame: posing in a bikini with her “baddies” on a beach; snapping a selfie as her daughter, now 8, tags along on a business trip; and posting the last red-carpet photo she took with her husband, Peter Saint John, who died of Burkitt lymphoma in 2013.

“I’ve been told that I overshare,” she said. “Sometimes I get criticized for it, but how else would I be if not all of me?”

Ms. Saint John knows it might seem overly calculating of Uber, which has been accused of fostering a hostile work environment for women, to hire an African-American single mother to make over its public image. She doesn’t care. “To me, there’s no sense of tokenism because I know I can do the job — I’m qualified to do the job, I can do a great job,” she said. “Being present as a black woman — just present — is enough to help exact some of the change that is needed and some that we’re looking for.”

She amplifies this presence with statement-making ensembles like the ruffled, lilac Marni skirt and crop top, gold-encrusted Chanel purse and stiletto heels she wore on a recent morning at Uber’s San Francisco office. “That’s my own personal thing,” Ms. Saint John said of her interest in fashion, so distinct from the hoodie aesthetic around her.

She has stood out from the crowd since her family settled in Colorado Springs when she was 12, after an itinerant childhood spent in Connecticut, Washington D.C., Kenya and Ghana, where her father was a member of the Parliament from 1979 until the 1981 coup d’état there. Her mother designed and sold clothes and ensured that Ms. Saint John and her three younger sisters stayed connected to their culture, especially once they moved to the Southwest.

“The first few months were really hard,” Ms. Saint John said. “Having a name that people can’t pronounce” — it’s BOZE-mah — “having a mom that refused to serve pizza on Friday nights when friends came over. She was like, ‘No you’re going to have this pepper soup, I don’t care if you’re sweating.’” (She’s come to appreciate that steadfastness: Accepting an award at an arts fund-raiser hosted by Russell Simmons this month, Ms. Saint John thanked her mother for ingraining her love of African culture.)


Arianna Huffington, second from left, and Ms. Saint John last month. CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

Ms. Saint John became captain of the cheerleading squad and track team. In her sophomore year, she ran for student council under the tagline “Ain’t Nothin’ but a Boz Thing,” inspired by her anthem of the moment, Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang.”

“I just thought it was so cool, but nobody got it,” she said. She lost, “but it was a great lesson — you need to connect on your audience’s level, not on your own.”

Ms. Saint John attended Wesleyan University, ostensibly to prepare for becoming a doctor but managing to teach a class on Tupac Shakur, with a professor’s supervision, in her spare time. She got into medical school but lobbied her parents for a yearlong sabbatical. “They agreed, which was their mistake,” she said.

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