With more than 30 years of experience in the television industry, Paula M. Shugart has been a driving force in entertainment television production for domestic and international audiences. As president of the Miss Universe Organization (MUO), and producer of the MISS UNIVERSE®, MISS USA®, and MISS TEEN USA® pageants, Paula oversees all business transactions and is responsible for the production of the live, worldwide telecasts each year. She is also a mentor and role model to the company’s three titleholders as they travel the globe as spokeswomen for several charitable alliances on behalf of MUO.
Shugart joined MUO in 1998 as the Vice President of Production and in 2001, was appointed President by Donald J. Trump who, incidentally, had never met Paula but had noticed her outstanding work within the company. In the years after taking charge, Paula’s main goal was to break the stereotypes typically associated with beauty pageants. “MUO is a company dedicated to empowering women by instilling the message of being ‘confidently beautiful’ in their everyday lives,” Shugart says. “Our brand is not about perfection or just beauty; to the contrary, our goal is to celebrate all women and their ability to be comfortable in their own skin – we want all women to be fearless and willing to take risks, challenge themselves, and be the best they can be,” states Shugart.
The contest has evolved into a powerful, year-round, international organization that advances and supports opportunities for women, as well as philanthropic initiatives around the world. In March 2014, Shugart launched a partnership with Dutch development agency, Cordaid, to raise funds for the Philippines following the devastating Typhoon Yolanda. The Miss Universe Cordaid Relief Fund’s efforts raised a quarter of a million dollars in just six months. Shugart now sits on the board of Cordaid’s U.S. Leaders Council, a group of highly respected business and societal leaders in the United States committed to making Cordaid one of their international charitable priorities.
Rebranding the Miss Universe pageant system has paid off. Over the past decade, Shugart’s efforts have boosted viewer demographics and increased viewership around the world. The MISS UNIVERSE telecast is currently distributed to approximately 190 countries and territories, making it one of the most widely viewed programs worldwide and the MISS USA broadcast now reaches over 70 countries annually.
In 2002, Shugart oversaw the successful sale of 50% of MUO to NBCUniversal and has worked closely with the network in maximizing the organization’s potential. The MISS UNIVERSE and MISS USA pageants have garnered great success with “out of the box” cross-promotional concepts conceived by Paula and NBC. In a world of ever-changing digital and social media developments for television viewers, Shugart has successfully incorporated never before seen elements of fan engagement into the MISS UNIVERSE and MISS USA telecasts, taking the pageants to a new level in live entertainment.
In addition to overseeing yearly, multi-million dollar sponsorship deals, Shugart has further expanded the Miss Universe brand by introducing several new product licensing ventures for the company. In March 2014, MUO teamed up with long-term sponsor Farouk Systems to produce the Miss Universe Style Illuminate by CHI haircare line. The line is now sold in over 1,000 select stores and salons in the United States and is retailed in nearly 20 countries. The popular Italian swimsuit and lingerie maker, Yamamay, partnered with MUO in 2013 to create the first ever Yamamay for Miss Universe swimsuit collection. The line debuted at that year’s MISS UNIVERSE pageant and with its success, the Yamamay for Miss Universe 2015 summer collection quickly followed. The lines are now sold at over 400 Italy based Yamamay stores and over 30 countries worldwide with multiple locations.
Shugart, whose father was an Admiral in the US Navy, says her childhood helped prepare her for her current role. Her global travels left her with a deep appreciation and understanding of the world’s cultural diversity as well as its commonality. To her, the MISS UNIVERSE Pageant in particular provides an opportunity for women of the world to celebrate their cultural differences and achieve a greater understanding of each other.
When it came time to attend college, Shugart wanted to go “someplace new…without a Navy base.” She chose Ohio University, which consistently ranks as one of the top schools in the country for television communication. Paula graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1981, with a BS in Communications, focusing on journalism and production. She currently serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council to the Ohio University Scripps College of Communication and is a recipient of the University’s prestigious Medal of Merit for Achievement in Entertainment and Television Production.
In 1982, Paula packed her bags and headed from Ohio to California and “never looked back.” After five days in Los Angeles, she met Kevin Bright (Executive Producer of “Friends”) who gave Paula her “first big break” and thus began her career in television.
From 1982 to 2002, Shugart was based in Los Angeles and developed a specialty in live television production while working on some of the world’s largest productions: the “Academy Awards,” “American Music Awards,” “Golden Globes,” “International Rock Awards,” and “President Clinton’s 50th Birthday Celebration,” among many others. She also served as producer on the original talent competition, “Star Search” for seven years, as well as a multitude of other programs including the Lifetime Special “The Age of the Female Icon,” which garnered a Cable Ace Award nomination. Shugart has also worked on the television productions of two of the music industry’s greatest driving forces: Madonna on her “Blond Ambition Tour” and the Rolling Stones on their “Steel Wheels Tour.”
Shugart forayed into the world of daytime television as Supervising Producer for ABC’s talk show “Mike & Maty” and went on to produce the pilot for the highly popular “Donny and Marie Show” for Columbia Television.
She is currently an active member of the Director’s Guild of America and the Producers Guild of America and has served as a Commissioner to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Latin Media and Entertainment Commission. Most recently, she was named a member of the Women's Leadership Board at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, elected for her professional accomplishments and demonstrated commitment to women and girls.
Working at the Miss Universe Organization may have saved Paula’s life, literally. Breast Cancer Awareness is an official cause for each reigning Miss USA, which prompted Shugart to have a routine mammogram. Having lost both her parents to cancer, Shugart was very concerned with the finding of an aggressive pre-cancerous condition known as ‘DCIS’. Nine surgeries and thirteen years later, she is cancer free and has joined Miss USA as an advocate for breast cancer awareness and believes that early detection is a key to cancer survival.
Paula and her husband Carl have been married for fourteen years and share their time residing in both New York City and Charleston, South Carolina.