Bozoma “Boz” Saint John’s impressive resume includes corporate marketing experience with PepsiCo, Apple Music, Netflix and Uber.

But she says it has been her experience with personal tragedies that has shaped her management and marketing philosophy of radical honesty.

“I think that sometimes we look at leadership as if we’re supposed to be perfect. And we can’t be. All of us have lost someone. All of us have fought through something,” Saint John told an audience of 1,800 on Thursday at the Lancaster Chamber’s 151st annual dinner.

Saint John’s memoir, “The Urgent Life,” was published in February and describes working as a marketing executive, as well as the suicide of a college boyfriend and the death of her husband, making her a single parent.

“I think I’m a better human and therefore a better executive since I’m a widow, I’m a single mom, because I’m someone who lost someone to suicide,” she told the crowd in the Freedom Ballroom of the Lancaster County Convention Center. “I’m a better person because of those things. Why should I hide any of that?”

Legendary NFL coach Dick Vermeil speaks at local chamber’s 100th-anniversary gala [photos]

Instead of the chamber dinner’s traditional speech followed by a Q&A, Saint John spent nearly an hour in a “keynote conversation” with chamber President Heather Valudes. Seated on separate plush white armchairs, their discussion touched on Saint John’s personal story, her approaches to social media, technology and diversity in the workplace.

The 46-year-old Saint John spent parts of her early childhood in Ghana and Kenya. When she was 12 years old, her family returned to the U.S. and lived in Colorado Springs. After graduating from Wesleyan University with a degree in English and African American studies, she had stints at several advertising agencies, including one owned by filmmaker and actor Spike Lee.

From 2005 to 2014 she worked at PepsiCo, eventually serving as the head of music and entertainment marketing. A job with Beats Music turned into a job at Apple Music and iTunes when the iPhone maker acquired the digital streaming service in 2014. She’s also held an executive-level marketing role at Uber.

While working at large companies, Saint John said she would focus marketing efforts on a small group of potential customers, saying the important thing is to speak honestly and try to make an actual connection with another human being.

“You get specific to a group of people,” she said. “You talk to them honestly, authentically. You make them feel like you’re speaking just to them. … If you talk to a specific group of people with your brand message and you repeat it again and again and again, you will be surprised how many people you will hit.”

Being able to understand customers means understanding that there is more to their lives than just how they relate to your products, but how they might be voting, what’s happening in their schools and what sports teams they might be following.

“It is important to understand what is happening with our culture. You can’t just be closed off and only know what’s happening in your company,” Saint John said, adding that the easiest way to do that is by monitoring social media trends.

The importance of understanding the many facets of your customers means it is critical to have colleagues whose own diversity reflects your target audience, she said.

“It is really about human capital. How is it that you are diversifying so it adds to the knowledge base of the company?” she said. “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. … The real question is, ‘Are you asking people to dance?’ And if you are, add a little rhythm to it.”@Bugs/Bug headline:AWARD WINNERS

The dinner program also included the presentation of four business awards.

- Pedro Rivera, president of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, accepted the Thomas T. Baldrige Catalyst Award for the college.

- Kedren Crosby, founder of business consulting firm Work Wisdom, received the Athena Award.

- Peter Barber, co-founder and owner of Two Dudes Painting Co., received the Small Businessperson of the Year award.

- E. Philip Wenger, director and former chairman and CEO of Fulton Financial, received the Exemplar Award.

What to Read Next