When Bozoma Saint John strutted onto the stage at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference Monday, it felt like an epochal rainstorm in the midst of a California drought. Saint John is the head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music and iTunes, and as a black woman, she’s a breath of fresh air among Apple’s executive branch, which mostly comprises middle-aged white men.
The tech giant’s new star began her presentation on Monday with a bang, playing The Sugarhill Gang’s hip hop classic, “Rapper’s Delight.” “We’re gonna make this whole auditorium rock,” she told the perplexed crowd, which mostly consisted of engineers and developers unaccustomed to that kind of exuberance. “One, two, three, rock!”
After some lighthearted ribbing—“We’re going to pause this because some of you guys are not clapping to the beat,” she quipped— the crowd warmed up to Saint John even as she continued to have some good-natured fun at their expense. “I could be getting it. I could get my strut on up and down this stage,” she joked as the song's beat dropped. “But it’s too early for that. I don’t want to hurt you guys.”
Saint John has been leading Apple Music’s marketing division for the better part of two years, but her journey began in Ghana, where she was born. Her family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, when she was just 14, a fish-out-of-water experience that inspired her lifelong mantra: “Be bold and fearless; never compromise who you are just to please another.”
It was that daring nature that helped Saint John on her rise to the top, from Wesleyan University, where she earned a degree in African American studies and English, to her job as head of Pepsi-Cola North America’s Music and Entertainment Marketing Group, where she helped sign lucrative endorsement deals with Kanye West, Eminem, and Nicki Minaj, and even had a hand in Beyoncé’s now iconic 2013 Super Bowl halftime performance.
Since then, the accolades have just kept pouring in, with Billboard naming Saint John one of the most powerful women in music and Fast Company calling her one of the world’s 100 most creative people. And after she stole the show Monday with her winning combination of charisma and smarts, Apple’s best-kept secret is officially out.
Use Apple Music on an iPhone 6 Plus, and let us know what you find most exciting about Bozoma Saint John.