It’s a accepted San Francisco morning — freezing and blurred — and I’m algidity on a North Beach street, an centralized agitation raging: should I booty a Lyft or re-download the Uber app? I, like 200,000 others, deleted Uber in January, aback the aggregation affiliated to do business at JFK while New York City auto drivers were on strike, agitation Trump’s clearing ban. But is it poor anatomy to booty a Lyft to Uber offices, area I’m due to accommodated Bozoma “Boz” Saint John, the new Chief Cast Officer? Additionally up for debate: whether her contempo arrangement is abundant to achieve me anticipate abnormally about Uber, ethically, morally, and personally.
I arouse a Lyft.
Currently Uber’s cast is “crisis.” Or, alike added accurately, “we fucked up, but gee we’re aggravating to get better!” In 2017, the aggregation got bent in a storm of bad press: there was the above #deleteuber campaign, afresh ex-engineer Susan Fowler appear a blog column about the animal aggravation and gender bigotry she’d suffered during her application at the company, afresh the New York Times appear a abundant commodity about the aggressively sexist frat-tastic abode culture, afresh there was the Google lawsuit, afresh the video of CEO Travis Kalanick babble at an Uber driver, afresh Kalanick’s abandonment — in what acquainted like aloof a few months, the cast became so carefully associated with accumulated sins that cipher (or at atomic best women, millennials, and bodies of color) capital to blow it.
Saint John was assassin to about-face Uber aback into a cast that bodies love, the affectionate of able-bodied assignment that seems to crave some array of abracadabra baton in accession to her continued account of absorbing qualifications. (Former arch of Music and Entertainment Business at PepsiCo and arch of business for Angel Music.) But what Uber ability be action on is not a abracadabra wand, but a abracadabra identity, in a moment aback character backroom reigns.
“It’s an abundantly cardinal and acute move from them, for a cardinal of reasons,” explains Arielle Goren, above Lead of Appropriate Projects for Policy and Communication at Uber. “Obviously: her actuality a woman of blush and an immigrant” — Saint John is from Ghana — “I anticipate she additionally aloof brings a assertive affectionate of air-conditioned agency that’s been missing. It’s a agglomeration of brogrammers who wouldn’t apperceive air-conditioned if it attempt them in the arm. She fixes that.”
After her appoint was appear in June, the action seemed to be working. Saint John was ample in buzz. “Is this the Woman Who Will Save Uber?” asked the New York Times in one of two overwhelmingly absolute pieces animating her as the savior of the company. The cardboard declared how her new role put her alongside the CEO, area she’d be “helping beacon from the commuter seat, stilettos and speakers on.” She went adamantine on the bright affairs annual ambit — Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue. She put on a red dress, red lipstick, and gold hoops, and charmed on an account on CBS This Morning. Gayle King alleged her a “firecracker.”
The PR advance put her advanced as a assurance of advance aural the company. Every commodity and account offered an adumbrated “but we acquire a atramentous friend!” defense, and a assertive “Yoo hoo, women, minorities, and added bodies agnostic about the company, amuse attending over here! Not at Travis” subtext. Plus, Saint John was a acquittal from Uber’s punishing news cycle. She was a new, friendly, relatable figurehead — a audible mom, a fashion-plate, a woman to watch — as the chase for a new CEO abject on. Finally, afterwards months on the alley and in the accessible eye, she was affair with me during her aboriginal abounding day at Uber’s address in San Francisco. And afterwards weeks of negotiations and rules and guidelines about what I can accommodate and how abundant unchaperoned time I’ll get (none), I’m assuredly here, and — to borrow her admired Instagram hashtag (#watchmework) — I get to watch her work, and see how she intends to achieve what she was assassin to do: achieve Uber assume like … if not absolutely a acceptable company, afresh at atomic one beneath admirable of ire. Acceptable luck.
I about absence Saint John’s access at Uber’s antibacterial but start-up-cliché-filled appointment (iPad aegis analysis in, chargeless Philz coffee, accessible plan). A feat, accustomed she’s 5’11, alike afterwards the 5-inch gold, active Giuseppe Zanotti sandals she’s wearing. She consistently stands out in a acreage of button-ups and alive accidental business-wear; and today, she’s in a blooming appearance sweatshirt and analogous jog-pants, forth with aboriginal atramentous braids alloyed into a crown.
“Ayyyy!” Saint John says, as I approach, dipping aback with her accoutrements advanced accessible for a hug. “I like your braids! Attending at us with the analogous braids,” she says affecting my hair, and flipping hers. I’m already bent up in her charisma. We’re aloof two atramentous ladies actuality loud, flipping our beard in an contrarily silent, white, macho office. Where’s Uber’s Chief of Diversity? This is an ad.
She anon launches into a bouncy adventure about about missing her flight this morning. Saint John lives in L.A. with her 8-year-old daughter, La’el. She usually commutes on the aforementioned 6:06 flight from L.A. to San Francisco, and she’ll arch aback at the end of the day, to be there in time for a appropriate Aback to School banquet with La’el. Of advance — and here’s the Uber tie-in, don’t worry, she consistently finds the bend — the aforementioned Uber driver, Israel, consistently picks her up at 4 a.m. and gets her there on time. Today she gave him the amiss terminal, though, concluded up accepting to run beyond twelve lanes of LAX cartage in those 5-inch sandals. But she fabricated it.
“I acquire in manifesting the words that are advancing out of my mouth,” she says. “I’m absolute accurate with what I say because the ambition is afresh out in the universe.” This is how she believes she got through the airport: by manifesting her will to get to work.
Today, I’ll beam Saint John as she addresses all of the advisers during the company’s account all-hands “fireside chat.” Afresh we’ll appear two meetings: a “driver forward” meeting, and an amend from Saint John’s Branding and Eyes team, followed by cafeteria in Uber’s cafeteria. Everything, bottomward to walking, is on an agenda.
“I plan break — I mean, you acquire to pee!” Saint John says.
“Five account only,” abettor Jen jokes. I think.
“I’m so aflame about today, because I accumulate activity about to the offices about the country. I had the best time.” Saint John says as she’s arch me to the all-hands meeting. We achieve a amiss turn; she’s still acquirements the office. “I went to Toronto — Hey Marshall!”
“He-hey! How are you,” says a abashed alpine white guy in a gray T-shirt, abashed to be recognized.
Saint John demurs aback I alarm her a unicorn, because she doesn’t accede herself one, alike if the blow of Silicon Valley does. She’s atramentous and a audible mother — her husband, Peter Saint John, died from Burkitt lymphoma in 2013 — with full-blooded for days. Saint John was built-in in Ghana; she confused to Colorado Springs with her parents and her three adolescent sisters aback she was 12, and frequently discusses how her mother and ancestor (he a affiliate of Ghanaian parliament, up until the 1981 accomplishment d’etat) fabricated abiding she acquainted affiliated to her African culture, alike aback she was one of few atramentous bodies — well, anywhere she went. As if in alertness for the blow of her career, Saint John was captain of the cheerleading band and the clue team, and ran for apprentice lath with the Dr. Dre–inspired byword “Ain’t Nothin but a Boz Thing,” and afresh went on to academy at Wesleyan area she accomplished a chichi on Tupac Shakur as an undergraduate absolute study. After stints at Spike Lee’s DDB and 12 years as the business arch of Music and Entertainment at PepsiCo, she went to Angel in 2016. Aback she took the date that year at their Worldwide Developers Conferences, Saint John was acclimated to actuality the alone atramentous woman in a room, arising charm, patiently answer to white bodies how to be cool. This was abnormally bright aback she approved to achieve the accomplished allowance ball to “Rapper’s Delight,” and angry out to be the alone actuality who could accumulate the beat. Uber assassin her in June afterwards an eight-hour affair amid her, not-yet-ousted CEO Travis Kalanick, and lath affiliate Arianna Huffington. It wasn’t a job interview, per-se, but she absolved out with the CBO offer.
Saint John took the job not for the paycheck (though, obviously, there was the paycheck) but because it was such an agitative and alarming challenge, she tells me, and she capital to prove she could do it. “I anticipation it was a huge, huge mountain. I was abashed by it, so I capital to do it. It was aloof so big; I was like, how am I activity to do it? All of a abrupt you see. It’s like actuality in a little baiter and actuality like, oh, I could row there.”
It’s accessible to see why Uber capital Saint John. She had a acceptable clue almanac at Apple, and fabricated Angel Music assume added ambrosial aloof by actuality associated with it. Allotment of the address of Saint John is that she is always, absolutely her active self: in the office, on stage, in talks, on Instagram area she goes by @badassboz and has 80,000 followers. She loves aerial fashion: heels, enviable apparel from Chanel and Marni, and big jewelry. She’s cool. She generally goes to concerts and awards shows with her babe in tow. She has two phones, both with shamelessly, altogether blatant gold cases. She has Drake in her iPhone contacts. “I say accompany your accomplished cocky to work,” she tells me. “This is the way I am. There’s no — I don’t apperceive how to be annihilation else.”
Currently she’s actuality herself on date during her allocation of the all-hands affair — addition has projected a bend of fireworks assimilate the awning abaft her head; Uber is acutely aflame about this. By now, Saint John has a appealing solid song and ball about what she is accomplishing at this company, how she got the job, and how aflame she is. It’s been rehearsed to accomplishment afterwards so abounding months on the road. Today, she drops the remix, this time abacus the new adventure she told me about Israel. Afresh it’s aback to the preexisting track: sound-bytes about actuality up for the challenge, and the accustomed angle about how aflame she is to be allotment of the team, and into the final verse, the now acclaimed adventure about bringing an Uber disciplinarian to a affair area Iggy Pop did a concert. Anybody action aback they are declared to laugh, and catch aback they are declared to clap.
During the Q&A, she’s asked what brands are alarming her appropriate now, which after-effects in the best anecdotic affair she’s anytime said about herself: “I’m such a cast nerd,” she says, afore citation Jordan as her admired brand. “I anticipate it’s absorbing how you can accessory a artistic cast with a animal actuality and use some of the acceptable qualities of the animal actuality and achieve it like a absolutely absolute artefact that a lot of bodies can love.” Saint John seems able-bodied acquainted that, if all goes well, her claimed cast will be allotment of the cool-ification adventure for Uber, aloof like it was for Angel Music.
After the all-hands, a baby amphitheater of amber and atramentous women appear up to Saint John. “I was assassin the anniversary Travis Kalanick resigned,” one woman tells her. “My aboriginal anniversary of absolute assignment was aback you started.” This woman, and the blow of the accepting line, acquaint Saint John how aflame they are and how abundant it agency to them that she is actuality in this position at this time. And, agenda be damned, she takes the time to affix with anniversary woman — be it about earrings, a podcast, motherhood — in interactions that are balmy and abounding of eye contact. I’m told absolutely I can accommodate this moment, aloof in case I was because not.
Five years ago, Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg were the abstracts that the Valley admired to point to as examples of progress. They were a audible blazon of woman — chichi in an Oscar De La Renta sheath-dress way, corporate, no-nonsense. Meyer had her Vogue spread; Sandberg launched a movement. Both believed in assignment as activity (Meyer abundantly had a daycare congenital so she could accompany her adolescent to work, and appropriately never leave the office). Now the adapted cast is different. A woman like Saint John is what the Valley wants to be associated with — addition cool, non-white, non-corporate, real. And while there is cipher like Saint John, companies are still aggravating to achieve bright hires: Angel assassin Denise Young Smith as the VP of Assortment and Twitter has Candi Castleberry-Singleton as their VP of Assortment and Inclusion. And in adjustment for added women of blush to get hired, women of blush acquire to get assassin in administration roles. But occasionally, there’s a faculty that women in these arresting positions are acceptance the albatross for confusing from messes they didn’t make. The companies that appoint them acquire their amount in the accessible eye. I ask Saint John how she feels that the abstraction of tokenism comes up so generally in conversations about her.
“I’m affronted by that,” she says. “I’m affronted because you wouldn’t ask anybody abroad that question. That takes abroad from my accomplishments; that takes abroad from what I’m able of. If there were somebody abroad who had the accolades, who had the receipts, would you ask them that? It offends me at every level. I’m atramentous and I’m a woman, and those are allowances in what I do. Alibi me. It’s a micro-aggression. Oh okay, so I am advised a token, does that beggarly the assignment I do is additionally token? It’s not. The assignment I’m accomplishing is absolutely important, and accordingly no. I’m not. I adios that angle at all,” Boz leans into me, authoritative animated eye contact, as if she’s talking to a acquaintance who’s apparently accomplished the aforementioned exasperation. (Of advance I have, Boz.)
And we’re walking!
“Hi Boss, we haven’t met yet,” says a affiliate of the Disciplinarian Growth team. Actually, I can’t acquaint if he says “Hi Boss!” which would be abundantly air-conditioned and respectful, or “Hi Boz,” as in a mispronunciation of her nickname, which would be abundantly disrespectful.
Saint John, Momo, and I acquire acclimatized about a ellipsoidal table in a baby appointment allowance for the aboriginal of two meetings, and Saint John pulls out a agreement notebook, acquisitive to learn. I can’t acquaint who started application “tactile” aboriginal — Saint John or Momo — but now it’s time to see how Saint John affairs to assassinate her account in concrete ways, and what the concrete applications of her eyes will beggarly in a real, concrete way for drivers and users. Hopefully I will acquisition out what this agency after in the meeting. Meanwhile, Saint John is answer that she doesn’t like the chat “rebrand,” that she prefers to focus on allowance the aggregation evolve.
“I appetite to change the acumen of this brand. By showcasing all of the complication of what will absolutely acculturate the brand. What are the belief we can tell? My achievement is that from a absolute concrete akin it changes the acumen of what the cast is and get bodies aback with us and we get new admirers from actuality admirers to actuality riders and we get bodies who are admirers to be drivers,” she explains.
One way to do this, she says: achieve Uber a pop-culture brand. (Granted, abounding would accede Uber a pop-culture cast already — aloof not a adorable one.)
She break bottomward what she means: “For instance, if you’re activity to a concert at Staples Center and you’re demography your Uber because you don’t appetite to esplanade and it’s easier for you and your Uber drops you off. All that is good. You see Chance the Rapper perform, he’s great, you’re excited, you leave the amphitheater you get aback in your Uber you go home, the abutting day you analysis your buzz and Chance is talking about how he was in his Uber the added day. That affiliation afresh is angry together.” She goes on, in anecdotal approach again. “We all acquire those stories. I appetite to apprehend Lebron James’s Uber stories. I got in an Uber the added day and the disciplinarian told me Rihanna had aloof been in the Uber, allurement him to drive faster because she was active late. So I alleged her bodies like, “Rihanna was in the Uber afore me … ” I appetite that story.”
I ask: What celebrity would appetite to endorse Uber at the moment?
“I’m beneath absorbed in endorsement, and added about allowance us acquaint the belief of added people, you know?” She says, expertly flipping a catechism about a possibly aching topic. “So all I’m adage is, I’m not allurement you to angle up and say we’re the best ever. Aloof like, don’t you appetite to acquaint the adventure of like this cool alarming person? It’s beneath about endorsement and added about administration the experience, with Uber as the catalyst.”
Over the advance of two meetings, it’s bright what Saint John ethics in her mission. She prefers words like afterlife and empathy. Aback presented with excel bedding of disciplinarian data, absorption on what the problems are — their dissatisfaction, their complaints — she jokes, Wow! So abounding colors, I adulation colors, and moves the chat abroad from the adamantine numbers and into the feels, and brings up her homeboy Israel again. All the Uber abstracts nerds laugh, but absolutely try to get aback to that big, checkered chart.
When she talks to her team, she tends to axis appear the personal. In the disciplinarian relations meeting, Saint John concluded up talking to one employee, Molly, about the time she collection an Uber, and about her 17-year-old daughter. Aback it’s time for Saint John to analysis in with the her actual team: she makes abiding to analysis in with Viv, who aloof had a child, but has been on the alley for weeks. In a aftereffect call, I acknowledgment to Boz that I’m abundantly ailing with a cold, so to amuse alibi my blatant voice, and she Uber Eats me some craven brainstorm soup, unprompted.
This is the concrete announcement of what Saint John agency aback she tells me how she’ll change the ability of Uber — “Simply by actuality actuality and by actuality who I am actuality has impact.”
On this day in August, Saint John is still so new, it’s absolutely adamantine to barometer impact. But I do ask her how she would handle addition beachcomber of scandal. “It’s naïve to anticipate that things won’t happen. I achievement that I acquire created abundant of a complication of story, that you’ll apperceive the acceptable things and be able to anatomy your own opinion,” she says.
In the two months aback our talk, Uber assuredly assassin a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, a adolescent immigrant and actuality of color. Saint John has appear Uber’s aboriginal affiliation — with addition alignment with a dinged reputation, the NFL. “You apperceive what?” says Saint John, “Here’s the affair with pop culture: There is annihilation that is vanilla. Everything has some basics in it.”
In that spirit, bristles months into her tenure, she launched her aboriginal big business campaign, a concrete announcement of what we discussed in August. It’s alleged “Rolling with the Champions” and appearance ESPN SportsCenter co-anchor Cari Champion as an Uber driver, active NBA rookies and personalities about — array of like Carpool Karaoke for sports enthusiasts. The ad premiered on ESPN, addition cast whose less-than-enlightened accomplishments acquire affluence of bodies atramentous with at the moment.
In September, she aggregate the date with Kara Swisher during a Q&A at Code Commerce, who did not aback bottomward from boxy questions. “I knew she was activity to appear for me,” jokes Saint John. Swisher took a affable bash at her adulation of aerial heels and accepted to apperceive why she was CBO and not VP of marketing. Saint John had responses and answers to both. She laughed off the shoes, and as for the CBO title, Saint John explained Business is associated with numbers — what she does is added emotional.
In aboriginal fall, she accomplished her best arresting failure. Atramentous Girls Code, an Oakland based nonprofit, angry bottomward a $125,000 donation from Uber, Architect Kimberly Bryant tweeted that the action acquainted artful accustomed the aggregation had so abounding issues with assortment and gender. Also, because Uber donated $1.2 actor to Girls Who Code, and Saint John had appear she was abutting the closing organization’s Board.
“We were aflame aback we heard the account of Boz abutting Uber and acquainted like it was such a abundant alignment for the assignment that we do,” says architect Kimberly Bryant. “Such a ample allotment of her belvedere and her bulletin is about this abstraction of atramentous babe magic. It seems counterintuitive for her not to accomplice with us. We didn’t alike get an action of candid support. That’s the allotment that I anticipate is disingenuous. How can allotment of your anecdotal be so centered about this story, and not action an candid donation? In axis it down, we’re afterward what she advocates for — ambitious what you’re worth.”
Saint John tells me in a after buzz alarm that she’s aghast in this situation.
“The anticipation that we’re not actuality aboveboard about it feels claimed to me,” she said. “If annihilation else, I’m actuality open, transparent, authentic, aboveboard in our actions. Alike the actuality that I’ve abutting the lath of Girls Who Code, aback I acquire a absolutely big job to do appropriate now is cogent enough. And if Atramentous Girls Code don’t appetite to acquire our admission because of our mission or our actions, they are advantaged to that. But I don’t appetite that to booty abroad from the artlessness of the accomplishments we acquire for Girls Who Code and for the others we will admission money to. Organizations charge it! And they appetite it.” A scattering of added organizations had angry bottomward funds from Uber’s advancing initiative, no best absent to be associated with the brand.
But appropriate now at lunch, in August, none of that has happened it. We’re aloof bistro the day’s catered lunch, in the Uber cafeteria (some adorned beef dash and mashed potatoes and salad), talking about how aflame she is to absolutely get started. I ask her what her best day at the aggregation has been aback she started. She tells me a adventure about actuality accustomed in the Toronto office, area anybody was so balmy and affable and affable she’d cried.
“What’s been your affliction day at the company?” I ask.
Jen interrupts, fast, to let us apperceive we’ve run out of time.
Lead angel credits: Victoria Beckham Dress, Price Upon Request at Victoria Beckham
Production Credits:Photos by Erik TannerStyled by Negar Ali Kline Sittings Editor: Lindsay PeoplesProduced by Biel ParkleeHair by Kisa Alexander at TheBeautyPrint.comMakeup by Vjollca BrojaPhotography Assistant: Elizabeth Stemmler