The Rise of Boz Bo­zoma Saint John shares her climb from an­swer­ing phones for Spike Lee to rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the Uber brand.

the rise of boz Pop-cul­ture savvy, un­par­al­leled drive and a sparkling per­son­al­ity put this fierce mom on a path like no other.

Working Mother - - Contents - by mered­ith bodgas

Only some­one with se­ri­ous con­fi­dence and smarts would step in to help im­prove a com­pany dur­ing peak con­tro­versy. It’s why the move from Ap­ple to Uber, amid sex­ual-har­rass­ment and un­equal-pay al­le­ga­tions at the ride-hail­ing gi­ant, was ex­actly right for bril­liant, brazen Bo­zoma Saint John. “I’ve al­ways been a black woman in cor­po­rate Amer­ica. I’ve faced my share of is­sues,” she says. “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.”

And what a voice it is, now that she’s honed it. She used to think she had to prove her in­tel­li­gence. She even joined an ad agency with a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal client, think­ing peo­ple might take her more se­ri­ously if she ven­tured out of her pop-cul­ture niche. These days, that job doesn’t make her im­pres­sive LinkedIn pro­file (p. 15).

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Wes­leyan Univer­sity in Con­necti­cut and then work­ing in its ad­mis­sions of­fice, Boz (rhymes with “pose”) headed to New York City. A temp agency placed her as en­ter­tain­ment mogul Spike Lee’s as­sis­tant. Her can-do at­ti­tude caught her boss’s at­ten­tion; her big ideas kept it. She went on to make many om­ni­scient moves, like iden­ti­fy­ing Bey­oncé as an icon be­fore the rest of the world, putting her in com­mer­cials on be­half of Spike DDB and Pepsi. And she rec­og­nized that plus-size women of color wanted bolder cloth­ing

op­tions. Above all, she learned to har­ness pop cul­ture’s power to pro­pel brands for­ward.

What we can’t see from her LinkedIn pro­file, or her brigh­tas-the-sun per­son­al­ity, is a chain of heart­breaks that could push even the most stoic pro­fes­sion­als out of the work­force. In­stead, those tragedies spurred her unique, coun­try-cross­ing ca­reer.

Los­ing a Child

Boz met ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive Pe­ter Saint John in the Spike DDB build­ing cafe in 2000. By 2003, they were mar­ried. And by 2008, they were ex­pect­ing their first child. “I was so ex­cited, buy­ing all the things, get­ting ready. Peo­ple would say I had that glow.”

But Boz’s flush­ness was ac­tu­ally a symp­tom of se­vere preeclamp­sia, a life-threat­en­ing preg­nancy con­di­tion. At seven months along, while work­ing at Pepsi, she wasn’t feel­ing well. On-site nurses dis­cov­ered that her blood pres­sure was dan­ger­ously high. Boz rushed to the hos­pi­tal. There, she was forced to de­liver her baby girl, whom the cou­ple named Eve. Sadly, Eve didn’t sur­vive.

“When you go through a trau­matic loss, you might want to run from it. I fo­cused,” Boz says. “I took some time to phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally re­cover. I got great doc­tors who un­der­stood my spe­cific chal­lenges.”

Boz and Pe­ter stayed de­ter­mined to be­come par­ents, and through a lot of coun­sel­ing, were able to con­ceive again. That next preg­nancy, though, was re­ally dif­fi­cult. Boz re­quired daily in­jec­tions and went on bedrest at five months.

At 30 weeks, around the same point she had de­liv­ered Eve, she gave birth to another girl, Lael. “It was har­row­ing but also the most com­fort­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, thanks to my work com­mu­nity. They car­ried the work I couldn’t do and al­lowed me to take care of my­self.” Lael pulled through.

Mak­ing Noise

Stylish Boz’s Pepsi col­leagues would ask her: “Why are you sell­ing soda? Why don’t you work in fash­ion?” So she ap­plied her mar­ket­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to a lead­er­ship po­si­tion in the cloth­ing-de­sign world. It turned out it wasn’t the right, well, fit.

When her daugh­ter was just about a year old, Boz went back to Pepsi with a new con­cept: to start an in-house en­ter­tain­ment di­vi­sion to plan pop-cul­turedriven com­mer­cials and spon­sor artists’ con­certs. Boz was free­lance at first be­cause nei­ther party was sure it’d be suc­cess­ful. Soon enough, it was full-time.

That ca­reer high co­in­cided with dev­as­tat­ing news: Hus­band Pe­ter was di­ag­nosed with Burkitt’s lym­phoma and wasn’t re­spond­ing to treat­ment. He passed away in De­cem­ber 2013.

Tak­ing Risks

Just two months later, mu­sic exec Jimmy Iovine, of stream­ing mu­sic com­pany Beats, in­vited Boz to his home in Los An­ge­les. “I went straight from my sis­ter’s bridal shower, in tulle and frills. I needed the fu­ture to pull me for­ward out of my grief.” The sin­gle mom re­lo­cated to join the Beats team. Ap­ple ac­quired Beats soon af­ter, giv­ing Boz the spot­light she long de­served.

I want to be the change so my daugh­ter can ac­com­plish more be­cause I ex­isted.”

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