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Bozoma Saint John: I'm on a 'personal mission' to help fix Uber

Bozoma Saint John isn't going to save Uber from its corporate culture problems.But Uber's chief brand officer ...

Posted: Jan. 15, 2018 4:44 PM
Updated: Jan. 15, 2018 4:44 PM

Bozoma Saint John isn't going to save Uber from its corporate culture problems.

But Uber's chief brand officer is making it a "personal mission" to help repair employee morale.

"I don't think it's up to one person [to save Uber]," she told CNN's Poppy Harlow in the latest Boss Files podcast episode. "It's not up to me. I'm gonna work my ass off to make sure that I am part of the solution."

In June, Saint John left her marketing leadership role at Apple Music. She's tasked with the responsibility to grow customer loyalty at Uber.

Her hire was considered a strategic start to Uber's turnaround effort: The company added a black female executive to its ranks after being blasted for a non-inclusive culture. Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigned later that month amid a series of public relations crises.

Saint John already had some name recognition in the tech industry, and headlines such as "Is this the woman who will save Uber?" followed. But Saint John said those headlines do a "disservice" to the "larger group who [is] really dedicated to saving Uber."

Related: Uber's new brand chief 'proud to be in the spotlight'

Last February, the company hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct an internal investigation to address former engineer Susan Fowler's public claims about the company's toxic work culture. It resulted in a purge of top employees and a new CEO.

Uber is the most valuable privately held startup in the world at $70 billion.

Saint John spoke candidly about Kalanick, saying she didn't have "any misgivings" about him before joining Uber. Kalanick had earned a reputation for being an aggressive leader with questionable ethics.

"I saw his vulnerability. Clear. It was very obvious," said Saint John, recalling an eight-hour meeting she had with the founder. "His uncertainty about what the future looked like -- his need for help -- [was clear]. He was asking for it [but] not directly."

Uber had also recently added Frances Frei, a professor and administrator at Harvard Business School, to the company. Frei, who works alongside Uber HR chief Liane Hornsey, is also helping Uber to revamp its work culture.

"I was confident in the team around him because that had also [recently] changed," Saint John said. "So, it wasn't just placing the bet on him, but placing the bet on the entire leadership team."

Related: Backlash results after Uber teams up with Girls Who Code

When asked whether she's still in touch with Kalanick, she said: "Not really. No." she said. "Every once in awhile."

She also recently joined Salam, Uber's Muslim employee resource group, as the executive sponsor. Although she's not Muslim, she said it's important to be an ally to Uber's diverse staff.

The company continues to fend off accusations of an unfair work environment. In October, Uber was was sued by three Latina engineers who allege that they -- as women and people of color -- were paid less than their white or Asian male colleagues.

It is also operating without some powerful allies. Prior to Saint John joining the company, the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology cut ties with Uber over the high-profile allegations of sexism at the company. When asked about the decision, Saint John emphasized the importance of supporting female Uber employees.

"This is the time to rally," she said.

Related: Uber has more work to do winning over drivers

Saint John said that she'll feel she's succeeded when Uber employees are proudly, and publicly, boasting company swag. "If our employees are wearing the Uber sweatshirt to the grocery store, that would make me feel great."

Beyond Uber, Saint John didn't rule out a future career in politics.

"Gosh, maybe," she told Harlow. "I really have thought about it. I think we should all contribute to what is happening in our country, especially now, to our greater world."

After all, it's in her blood. Her father was a member of the parliament in the Hilla Limann administration in Ghana.

In the meantime, she said she "really hopes" Oprah Winfrey runs for president: "I would just leap for joy."

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