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Uber's Bozoma Saint John: 'There certainly is a lot to do'

After being besieged by scandals, the ride-hailing firm's brand ambassador is looking to humanize the company.

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Bozoma Saint John (left) talks about what it's like to be Uber's chief brand ambassador at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.

Dara Kerr/CNET

Bozoma Saint John has a difficult job: she's tasked with cleaning up Uber's reputation. 

The ride-hailing company has been mired in scandals over the past few months, and the Uber exec acknowledges she has her work cut out for her.

"There certainly is a lot to do," Saint John said speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

She likened the work ahead of her to having a whole pizza pie and wanting to eat the entire thing. But you can't because it'll make you sick, she said. "I just want to take one piece at a time."

Saint John joined Uber at its chief brand ambassador from Apple, where she was the head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music and iTunes. She is one of few black women who is a top Silicon Valley executive. Like most tech companies, Uber has been criticized for its lack of workforce diversity and being run by tech bros. One of Saint John's goals is to change this.

"I'm a part of this Silicon Valley challenge," she said. "I'm not satisfied just yet… We need to keep working and that's okay."

On top of its diversity woes, Uber has also been besieged by scandals, including a #DeleteUber movement, workplace sexual harassment allegations and a chaotic company culture. Much of this culminated in June when Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick was forced to resign.

Saint John started working for Uber just days before Kalanick's resignation. She said one of her first thoughts when she heard the news was "oh shit."

But, "you can't control everything. I was very aware of what I was walking into," she said. "For me, the important thing was to figure out how to manage this brand."

Since then, Uber has been working on a nicer, more clean-cut image. It's added a tipping feature for drivers, it said it stopped tracking passengers once their trip is done and it hired new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. He's seen as a straight shooter who is forward-thinking and values a diverse workforce.

Saint John said she's currently working on "humanizing" Uber. That means telling the behind-the-scenes stories of drivers and passengers, rather than solely focusing on the technology aspects of the app. She believes this will resonate with customers.

"Sometimes it's not about the bits and atoms," she said, "but about the holistic human heart."

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