Bozoma Saint John — “Badass Boz” on social media — never considered herself a “tech person.” Growing up, she was a super-social kid obsessed with music. But at 40, she’s used that love of pop-culture to become one of Silicon Valley’s biggest power players, moving from a music career to being the head of global consumer marketing for iTunes and Apple Music, where she had her first viral moment leading the crowd of techies at the 2016 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in a chorus of “Rapper’s Delight.” Now she’s facing a tougher crowd. Saint John recently left Apple and started a new job as Chief Brand Officer at Uber — a contentious move during a time when Uber is coming under immense criticism as a brand. The widow and mom to an 8-year-old daughter shares how following her gut and never following the given advice has landed her at the most exciting part of her career.
My family moved a lot so I was always walking in as the new kid. I was born in Middletown, Connecticut, while my dad was getting his PhD in ethnomusicology and anthropology at Wesleyan University. Six months after I was born, we moved to Ghana. The first five years of my life were there. In 1982 when there was a coup d’état, my family left because the government was overthrown and my dad was involved in politics. We moved to Washington, D.C., and my dad joined us there a little bit later after he served some time in political detention. We lived in Orange County for a little bit, but my dad really wanted to return to the continent, so we moved to Nairobi, Kenya, where I was for three years, and then eventually moved back to Ghana, where I was for another three years. Then we moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, when I was 12, which is where I feel is home to me.
The only way I could connect with my classmates was to understand what was happening in pop culture at the time. I remember having to go to the fall dance in November and I’d only been in the country for a month. Since I was a black girl in Colorado Springs, people expected me to dance like a professional or something. I also didn’t understand the music of the time. We were listening to highlife in Ghana. I came to the U.S. and, like, Taylor Dayne, Michael Jackson, and Paula Abdul were it. So I would turn on my MTV and study the videos — it was real. I’d watch videos, and I’d listen to songs again and again until I knew the lyrics.
At the time, I was listening to early hip-hop, like Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and Public Enemy. My mom didn’t like that tape too much because it was like, fight the power. We’d already been in a political battle and so my mom was very sensitive about what revolution actually meant. It’s something very different to be in the ruling party and then be overthrown in a coup d’état, and then come to a country where people are oppressed and looking for revolution. To her, those were very serious messages. For me, I was just a kid trying to fit in.
As a first-generation American, my parents expected that I would go on to have pretty tactical higher-education-type jobs — doctor, lawyer, engineer. Those were the three options. My dad was not at all open to the idea that there would not be a higher education in my future. There was a desk in my room, there was a study time after I got home and enforced quiet time. If you finished your homework early, you picked up a book and you read it.
I went to Wesleyan as a pre-med major knowing full well that I would go to medical school. But my interests were more in the entertainment and social. I took an intro African-American studies class my first year of college. It was especially interesting because it was the time of Rodney King, the L.A. riots, and the O.J. Simpson trial. There was so much strife and civil unrest. Given the fact that I’d grown up in a house where politics and social disobedience and civil unrest and all of those things were constant conversation, I was very interested in what the riots in L.A. meant, and what it meant for African-Americans in the country to feel oppressed and take it out on society. This wasn’t the act of people who didn’t care about their neighborhood — it was an act of defiance.
Read her full story @ Get that life