The one reason you should never tone down your personality

Marketing guru Bozoma Saint John has turned down jobs where colleagues “never saw the full range of me"

Bozoma Saint John has excelled at many roles. As head of music and entertainment marketing for PepsiCo, she championed the power of pop culture to define a brand and connect to audiences in groundbreaking ways. As head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music, she pioneered playlists and made iTunes a household name. As chief brand officer at Uber, she helped revitalize a brand struggling with public image problems. Currently, she is the chief marketing officer for Endeavor, where she oversees marketing efforts for all of the entertainment conglomerate’s properties, including talent agency William Morris Endeavor.

But the role the marketing guru is most proud of is that of her true, authentic self.

For many young people, moving up the corporate ladder can seem like a fade to gray—compromising a sense of self to blend with the corporate culture. Saint John, however, marches to the beat of her own drum and knows that her success has come from flaunting—never hiding—her unique and vibrant personality.

“There’s always an opportunity to learn and grow when you throw the plan out the window,” says Bozoma Saint John.

“My superpower is wholly and truly appreciating me,” she told the audience of WeWork employees at the “Superpower You” panel discussion at the company’s recent Global Summit in Los Angeles. She said in the past she has actively rejected opportunities and situations in which she felt she was expected to tone herself down or work with people who “never saw the full range of me.”

It’s not only her innovative work that sets her apart. In a world of button-ups and nondescript hoodies, Saint John’s vivacious style, influenced by her African heritage, stands out. The powerhouse, described by Vogue as “the best-dressed woman in Silicon Valley,” once drove an Uber in a ballgown (she was gathering some real-life experience to inform her work with the company). “I’m extra,” she laughs, recounting the experience. “I’m like, you are this ridiculous—but you know what? That’s what I was wearing that day.”

Saint John got her start working as an assistant to director Spike Lee before joining his creative agency, Spike DDB, and has spent her career using pop culture to connect and inspire audiences across the world. Growing up in places as varied as Ghana and Washington, D.C., before her family settled in Colorado when she was 12, Saint John understood the power of pop culture to make us feel a little less alone. This belief, underscored by her personal confidence, is what led her to champion Beyonce years before the singer became an icon (she appeared in Pepsi ads during Saint John’s time at the company, and Saint John worked with her on the lauded 2013 Super Bowl halftime show).

While at iTunes, Saint John had an idea for a commercial that sold the streaming service as a way to connect to niche music fans. She was turned down repeatedly by the company before finally enlisting pals Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson, and Kerry Washington to appear in a self-financed spot that she paid to air during the Emmys. The ad exploded and was dubbed “the greatest Apple commercial of all time,” cementing Saint John as the tastemaker du jour.

As a woman who has worked at major brands like Apple and Uber, it might seem that Saint John has an airtight game plan. Nope. “Plans stifle you,” she says. “They make you look at boundaries. There’s always an opportunity to learn and grow when you throw the plan out the window.” Saint John’s career has been guided by a belief in herself and an eagerness to learn everything she can from the diversity of opportunities that comes her way.

In a time where women, and especially women of color, have to fight to be celebrated for their accomplishments, says Saint John, she knows the importance of celebrating herself and the women in her community. “The only way to be appreciated by others is to appreciate yourself,” she says. “As women, we’re told to be humble, but that’s a lie. Don’t be humble.” For every woman who’s been encouraged to stifle her opinions or make herself seem like less than she is, Saint John is a reminder that style and substance can go hand in hand.

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