Bozoma Saint John stole the show.
The Apple Music executive doesn’t have nearly the same name recognition as the senior executives, from Eddy Cue to Craig Federighi, who shuffled on to the stage at the annual developer conference on Monday.
But Saint John quickly turned heads during her appearance at the event, and not just because she got Apple’s audience to rap along to The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” Even if the audience filled with tech developers wouldn’t sing aloud as loudly as “Boz” wanted, her enthusiasm was infectious.
Twitter instantly lit up, some people even tweeting that she should be the next CEO. BuzzFeed crowned her “the coolest person to ever go onstage at an Apple event.”
To her friends, though, it’s not a surprise that the Apple exec would captivate the crowds.
“Boz is a fierce woman in consumer tech and is making waves at Apple,” said Anjula Acharia-Bath, a partner at Trinity Ventures and friend of Saint John’s, in an interview with Business Insider. “This was her moment to shine.”
Saint John ended up at Apple thanks to its acquisition of Beats Music – a move that she hadn’t originally seen coming. She joined only three months before Beats was sold to Apple, but has taken the reins as the head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music and iTunes.
Her path to get to the Apple stage wasn’t easy. Born to Ghanaian parents, Saint John moved with her family to Colorado Springs, Colorado, when she was 14. Her father’s journey from joining the Ghanaian army as a clarinet player to graduating from college in the US continues to be her biggest inspiration to this day, she says.
“People who would have seen him on paper would have said he would never achieve,” Saint John said in a keynote at the nonprofit First Graduate this past May.
Saint John also went to Wesleyan University and spent a few years after graduation at the ad agency Spike DDB. Then, Saint John’s career took her to Pepsi for nearly a decade, with a quick stint at fashion brand Ashley Stewart.
Pepsi, though, was where Saint John made a name for herself in music circles. She ran its music and entertainment marketing group, a division that she practically invented herself, after she suggested that Pepsi start sponsoring music festivals and award shows.
It was in that role at Pepsi that Saint John met Acharia-Bath, who also manages “Quantico” TV star Priyanka Chopra.
“She was a force of nature and in all seriousness I was blown away with her in our very first meeting,” Acharia-Bath said. “She inspires me every day with her fearless nature.”
Her passion for music led her to move across the country from New York to Los Angeles to oversee marketing for Beats Music. Jimmy Iovine picked her personally from Pepsi, Acharia-Bath said.
“And if there is one person who knows talent, it’s him. She champions global talent and has a unique perspective,” Acharia-Bath said. “She’s willing to take risks and share her opinions no matter how controversial they may be at the time.”
Now that it’s an Apple-owned company, Saint John splits her time between Cupertino and Los Angeles, flying back and forth multiple times a week. Apple Music launched in June 2015, but Saint John’s time onstage was to highlight how the company has now rebuilt it from the ground up. That includes extra effects like lyrics, which she wanted to get the crowd to sing along to. She closed it out by playing Ghanaian music, in a nod to her family background.
Her passion, though, was what captured the crowd and the attendees at WWDC. As for whether she could be the next Apple CEO, Acharia-Bath doesn’t doubt that Saint John could be anything she wants to be.
“She is a strong female leader who is no doubt going to go on to amazing things across tech. She is one of the few people that truly understand tech and pop culture and that will take her a long way,” Acharia-Bath said.