In a conversation with London Kemp and Bozoma Saint John, two minority executives discussed their journeys and how they are helping shape the world. Kemp, a former Netflix executive and now the current director of real estate and facilities at Amazon, interviewed Saint John, who is now Netflix’s chief marketing officer, after spending time at Apple and Uber.
Saint John began by describing her path to the C-suite and what it means for people like her, saying, “There aren’t many C-suite executives that look like us . . . it has been a journey to get here.” When she first began working, Saint John notes she did not know that this career existed, or that marketing itself would have this trajectory. It has helped, however, to not be “predictive” or overly “goal oriented.”
“I haven’t felt pressure on myself to see where I want to go . . . I did not have a ‘plan,’ but I was committed to myself,” she said.
STARTING NOW 👉 In this exclusive & intimate interview @netflix‘s CMO, @badassboz, shares her thoughts with @amazon‘s, London Kemp, on how #brands can shape a culture of #inclusivity & what it will take for companies to be more authentic & successful: https://t.co/2sh4kN2CjF pic.twitter.com/u0PeDkFVQA— Urban Land Institute (@UrbanLandInst) May 10, 2021
Saint John was adamant about the importance of concentrating on yourself. She likens this mind-set to track, which she ran in school. “If you step out of your lane, you will be disqualified. If you look behind you, you will trip and fall. I don’t look at anyone else to measure my accomplishments.” She noted that this is especially important as a woman of color in traditional corporate spaces, which can oftentimes be unwelcoming. “I don’t deny any part of myself in my work . . . I hope that you see my fingerprints,” she said.
She expects this from the rest of her team as well, saying, “I appreciate that they are going to put themselves in their work, and I call it out when I don’t see it.”
Not only is it important to express personality and individualism, but Saint John remarked on the importance of cultural change in being yourself, stating you cannot wait to hold a “position of power” to show up and make changes. “It takes practice over time to show up confidently . . . I was like this as an assistant account exec—you need to show up as yourself.”
She is active in guiding the next generation to follow in her footsteps, and led a workshop for Harvard Business School titled “Anatomy of a Badass” this past year, which focused on how to adopt and live by these foundational principles.
When it comes to social issues, especially relating to the past year, Saint John echoed her emphasis on the individual, hesitant to say how far “we” have come as a country or society.
“It can be conflating when we talk in the ‘we’; we should be talking in the ‘I,’” Saint John said. She wants people to ask what is the change that “I” can make that will make one’s circle better, and how to expand on that circle afterward. “When we say ‘we,’ there is no responsibility. . . . You don’t have to be a CEO to enact a change” she continued.
Saint John was an active voice during the George Floyd protests the past summer, and said that she was encouraged by the corporate responses throughout the country. While she acknowledged that some of the statements and actions taken by companies might have been “superficial” or “performative,” she noted that the response in itself signified a shift from the standard business-as-usual approach. “It’s a big change, performative or not,” she said. Saint John also highlighted organizations she was most impressed by in their approaches—namely, BlueCross, Nike, and Ben & Jerry’s.
Going forward, Saint John sees many opportunities to keep disrupting the status quo and innovating. “I don’t know of an industry that doesn’t [need innovation]. A lot of things we think have reached their peak . . . it can all be disrupted,” she said. She pointed to the increased diversity within organizations as a key for this, which will attract different mind-sets and experiences.
Just as important for Saint John is diversity of thought, and being exposed to “challenging ideas.” She urged people to shake up their social media feeds and follow people you disagree with. “We’re being shepherded into small circles with people who agree completely with us, it’s such a dangerous place to be—no one can challenge your ideas.” She stated that “true, unabashed curiosity” about different points of view and different ways of being makes us “smarter and better.”
Saint John urged everyone to “be human, be yourself, and bring yourself to every situation.”