Jul 09, 2018
By Lisa Di Venuta
In tech and branding, her differences turned out to be a great advantage.
Bozoma Saint John, self-described “force of nature in fierce stilettos” and newly minted chief marketing officer for entertainment company Endeavor, came to Viacom’s Times Square headquarters in May to share career wisdom and empowering life advice with Viacom employees at an event organized by the company’s Office of Global Inclusion.
Saint John is a woman of color – and a woman in power. She’s an agent of change in the business world, having held executive positions at major tech and media hubs including Spike Lee’s ad agency (Spike DDB), Pepsi, Beats by Dre, Apple and Uber.
At Viacom’s employee event, Saint John strutted in wearing six-inch designer heels, looking every bit the #girlboss: poised, commanding and unapologetically stylish. In an ebullient exchange with long-time friend and moderator Michele Thornton Ghee, BET Her senior vice president of Ad Sales, Saint John traced her non-traditional life and explained how the unique worldview that it formed drove her success in a traditional business world.
When she was 5, Saint John’s family emigrated from Ghana to Colorado to escape civil unrest. Being an outsider became normal to her. In tech and branding, her differences turned out to be a great advantage.
“Assimilation is not necessary to get ahead,” said Saint John.
This philosophy governs the way Saint John conducts meetings, interacts with colleagues, and curates high-fashion ensembles to wear in a room full of suits and sensible shoes. At first, she tried to fit the mold of corporate America. It didn’t work. She couldn’t bring the full scope of her ideas to the table when she devoted so much energy to, as she calls it, “superficial business etiquette.”
Saint John was not always the most popular person in the boardroom. In fact, she says she never received a positive performance review. Her career trajectory suggests that she was doing something right.
Take, for instance, the moment she received a call from Jimmy Iovine, cofounder of Beats by Dre. Iovine wanted to hash out a lucrative business opportunity between Saint John and Apple Music, Beats’ parent company.
Saint John was wearing a gold lamé jumpsuit at the time, and kept the same outfit on for her meeting with Apple executives. It was convenient, and she was in a rush. Most importantly, as Saint John proudly stated: “You got to shine!”
“I’m being outrageous to blaze a trail for other women of color,” said Saint John.