Branding Exec Bozoma Saint John Talks Professional Success After Personal Tragedy Of Losing Her Husband And First Child
It seems that Bozoma “Boz” A. Saint John has never stepped away from a challenge–whether in her career or in her personal life. Named the Chief Brand Officer at Uber not long ago, Saint John was the one who crafted PepsiCo’s venture into music festival-based marketing while she was head of Music and Entertainment Marketing there–a position created just for her. She also did her marketing and branding magic at Beats and Apple, and along the way has been lauded by many in her industry and the media at large.
Now, Saint John is gracing the April/May cover of Working Mother, sitting down with the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Meredith Bodgas, for an inspiring and enlightening interview on taking chances and overcoming loss.
In the feature, Saint John revealed how facing personal tragedy changed her outlook on life and led her to start taking more of a stand professionally. “I’ve always been a Black woman in corporate America. I’ve faced my share of issues,” she told the magazine. “It’s important not just for the individual but also for the corporation to address any concerns. I want to lend my voice as part of the workforce.”
One personal issue Saint John faced was the loss of her first child, Eve, in 2008 while married to Peter Saint John. She was seven months pregnant when doctors found out she had severe preeclampsia, a life-threatening condition. Saint John lost her daughter not long after.
“When you go through a traumatic loss, you might want to run from it. I focused,” Boz said. “I took some time to physically and emotionally recover. I got great doctors who understood my specific challenges.”
After another difficult pregnancy, she delivered her daughter, Lael Saint John, at the 30-week mark just like Eve. But despite the miracle of that premature birth, tragedy struck again when her husband was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma. He died in December 2013.
“Because my husband, Peter, died young, I’ve already faced the scariest thing in my life. Now I live out the dreams for both of us,” Saint John said.
Born in the United States, Saint John’s family moved to Ghana when she was six months old. But by the time she was 12, her family returned to the U.S. to live in Colorado Springs. By 1999, she had graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in English. Her career got started at such advertising agencies as Arnold Worldwide and Spike Lee’s Spike DDB. She was also Vice President of Marketing for fashion brand Ashley Stewart. In 2014, she was recruited by Beats Music and when Beats was purchased by Apple Saint John was named head of global consumer marketing for iTunes and Apple Music.
“I’ve never run from a job; I’ve always run to another one. With Beats, I had a chance to do something I’d never done before. My mom was appalled when I told her I was leaving people who supported me to move across the country to work with people who don’t know me. She said she was going to move with me.”
The move obviously turned out to be a good one and led Uber to tap Saint John as Chief Brand Officer to help shake things up in 2017. Throughout all the personal and professional change, Saint John said the key to her success has been letting her skills be seen–even in the smallest ways. “Whenever I saw a need, I stepped up and did it, no matter how small it was. I’d follow everyone to the conference room and ask if they needed water. If Spike was running late, I’d call his kids’ school to make sure they knew. Being proactive opened up his eyes to what I could do. I was promoted in nine months.”