Uber is in the midst of dealing with a myriad of internal issues that have seeped into the public arena. Prime among them is the current investigation into its culture and workplace practices that was sparked by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler’s allegations of sexism and sexual harassment at the company.
Now the company wants to tell its story better. It’s a strategy that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has long employed in times of trouble and public scandal, according to sources.
To do that, Uber has brought in the big guns. Bozoma Saint John, who resigned from Apple last week where she was a marketing executive, is joining the ride-hail company as its first chief brand officer.
What exactly does that entail?
“The beauty of a new role is sort of [my ability to] define it,” Saint John told Recode in an interview. “My background is in marketing. That’s what I’m going to be focused on mostly. [But] I reserve the right to change it a little bit. The business is going to continue to grow and change and perhaps the needs for marketing and branding will change in six months.”
Saint John said she’s well aware of the challenge that she’s been tasked with as Uber — which just fired 20 people as a result of an investigation into individual claims of sexual harassment and other workplace issues — continues to navigate the murky waters the company’s aggressive internal culture has wrought.
“I know what I’m walking into,” she said. “I think it’s a really exciting time to tell the story well. Certainly there have been lots of things that have been swirling around [about] Uber but I’m interested in telling the story about the service and what is happening from the brand standpoint.”
“I have to focus on what I have to focus on,” she continued. “There’s not a lot I can do about what’s already happened at Uber.”
The company said that Saint John will initially report into Frances Frei, who we reported joined Uber as its SVP of leadership and strategy, who is helping the company change its management structure and will have a role in changing the company’s culture.
When asked whether changing the company’s narrative will simply serve to distract from materially changing the company culture, she said: “All of those things are required. My first responsibility is to change the perception of the brand. That is what I’m going to be focused on doing, because I know there are good stories and real stories and things that are happening that should be told that folks just don’t know.”
Saint John still is working out how exactly she’ll address the increasingly negative perception the public has of Uber.
“I think this is a really important time for Uber,” she said. “It’s at a critical stage; there’s so much happening in the business. The growth is so expansive that the story hasn’t been told the way it really should be. I’m a change agent. I enjoy telling stories of brands at moments in time that [they] are going to change culture and I firmly believe that Uber is going to do that.”
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