When Bozoma Saint John, Uber Technologies Inc.'s new chief brand officer, first considered joining the ride-hailing startup, she didn't like what she saw.
Saint John walked into Uber in June, just as it was reeling from a months-long PR nightmare that spanned allegations of sexual harassment, an investigation from attorney general Eric Holder's law firm, an ousted CEO, and a #deleteUber campaign, among other, numerous issues. Before taking the job, she said she needed to understand the full scope of the situation.
"I asked a lot of difficult questions to [former CEO Travis Kalanick] himself before I took the job, like what is coming, what else is there," Saint John said at Recode's Code Commerce event in New York City. "I wanted to know as much as I could before coming in -- if it was going to be for me."
"And yes, I had a problem with everything that had happened before," added Saint John, who was recommended for the job by Uber board member Arianna Huffington.
Despite all of Uber's problems, Saint John said she felt the role presented an opportunity to really put her stamp on something and lead a total makeover of the company's brand. Prior to joining Uber, Saint John worked in top marketing positions for PepsiCo (PEP) and headphone maker Beats, eventually landing the role of Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) head of global and consumer marketing for iTunes and Apple Music after Apple acquired Beats.
When asked how she would go about transforming Uber's badly tarnished reputation, Saint John said it would require more than just a one-dimensional response. Some of Uber's controversies surround sensitive issues such as sexual harassment -- a problem that started with allegations from former Uber engineer Susan Fowler and ultimately led to the firing of more than 20 employees and the departure of Kalanick as CEO.
"We can't be shiny happy," Saint John explained. "We have to show some inspiring things, things you're sorry about, things that are funny and light. Those [issues] are terrible and we're working to fix it."
One way that Uber can begin to patch up its reputation among consumers is by making sure higher-level executives speak out on a regular basis. Uber's new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has already done that. Khosrowshahi, who was took the helm in late August, denounced President Donald Trump's DACA move in one of his first tweets since being named CEO.
Saint John seems to already be a big fan of Kalanick's successor.
"I'm so excited," Saint John said. "He is forceful, steady, has a really strong point of view and has enough edge. We need a little bad ass in there because I am too."
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