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Breaking Barriers, Pioneering Career Paths, and Making a Positive Impact with Paula Boggs

Breaking Barriers, Pioneering Career Paths, and Making a Positive Impact with Paula Boggs
Breaking Barriers, Pioneering Career Paths, and Making a Positive Impact with Paula Boggs

From the military to the music world, Paula Boggs has made her mark by bravely navigating new spaces and pioneering career paths for herself. After serving at the Pentagon and in the White House as an army officer, she spent a decade at Starbucks as its Chief Legal Officer before leaving to write and perform music with the Paula Boggs Band.

As you listen to our conversation, you’ll be inspired and in awe. Her story is one of resilience, adaptability, and breaking barriers. And she inspires others to embrace their authenticity, find joy in their work, and make a positive impact in their respective fields.

In this episode of the Branding Room Only podcast, you’ll learn about how Paula’s background influenced her leadership style and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Paula will also reveal the importance that mentorship and sponsorship can have in shaping careers, the value of servant leadership and the lasting impact it can have on an organization’s culture, and more!

1:24 – What personal branding means to Paula and her three-word self-description, favorite Maya Angelou quote, and Jill Scott hype song

3:32 – Why asking where Paula grew up has a more complicated answer than it does for most people

13:22 – The role of law school as a delay strategy for Paula and how she used failure to open doors of opportunity

23:08 – A textbook lesson in mentorship and sponsorship (and the difference between the two)

31:28 – A need to be fulfilled in a job and how Paula continued to break ground in her career journey

36:11 – How Paula got exposed to music at an early age and returned to writing and performing music after a 15-year hiatus

41:51 – Why Paula stayed on as Starbucks General Counsel for a few years even as she felt called to do something different

45:42 – Servant leadership as an essential attribute for good leaders and the legacy Paula left behind at Starbucks

55:20 – Sources of joy for Paula, the one thing she’ll always stand by, and her Branding Room Only magic

Connect With Paula Boggs

Paula Boggs is founder of Boggs Media, LLC, managing her music and other creative activities. She is a Musician, Speaker, Writer and former attorney, ending her law career after serving as Starbucks top lawyer, following in 2009, NASDAQ naming Paula its top general counsel. 

Paula gives speeches, writes music, has co-produced four albums and for 16 years has toured with Paula Boggs Band — “Rewriting the bluegrass story from a black perspective.” – AmericanaUK. President Obama appointed her to his Committee on the Arts, and she has received the Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award. 

Paula is a Voting Member and Governor of The Recording Academy, Pacific Northwest Chapter and serves on the Newport Festival’s Foundation board. In 2021, Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas conferred on Paula an honorary doctorate of laws.

Boggs Media, LLC | LinkedIn | Twitter/X

Paula Boggs Band | Facebook | Twitter/X | Instagram | TikTok | Spotify

Mentioned In Breaking Barriers, Pioneering Career Paths, and Making a Positive Impact with Paula Boggs

Crafting a Personal Brand in the Corporate World with Zabrina Jenkins

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Welcome to The Branding Room Only Podcast where we share career stories, strategies, and lessons learned on how industry leaders and influencers have built their personal brands. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Hi, y’all, it’s Paula Edgar, your host of Branding Room Only, and I’m so excited today because you have Paula times two. My guest today is Paula Boggs and she is the founder of Boggs Media, LLC and the Paula Boggs Band.

A little bit about Paula, for over a generation, Paula Boggs has created career paths through the military, law, and now music, uniquely and authentically hers. After a stint at the Pentagon and the White House as an army officer, Paula reached the pinnacle of law serving a decade at Starbucks as Chief Legal Officer.

Since leaving Starbucks in 2012, this pioneering Black woman has fronted the genre-defying Paula Boggs Band, while also mentoring others, giving speeches, serving on boards, writing essays, and co-raising her niece, who’s now a junior at Cornell University. Paula, welcome to the Branding Room.

Paula Boggs: Thank you, Paula. It’s so great to be here.

Paula Edgar: It’s so weird to call somebody else Paula. Well, I’m so excited to talk to you today. I start off with the same question for everyone. I want to ask you this. What does personal branding mean to you? How do you define it?

Paula Boggs: Sure. Well for me, it is really my public identity, it’s my image, my story, how I show up in the world. If I’m doing it right, my personal identity is in harmony with the public one.

Paula Edgar: Alignment is important, definitely. Tell me this. How would you describe Paula Boggs in three words or short phrases?

Paula Boggs: Oh, that’s a fun one. I would say maverick, energetic, and kind.

Paula Edgar: Oh, maverick. Oh, I love that. Do you have a favorite quote or motto?

Paula Boggs: I do—and of course this changes from time to time—but right now, my favorite one is from Maya Angelou, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Paula Edgar: Yeah, that is a good one. That is a good, a good, good one, at the cross board. I’m thinking like at work, at home. Yep, that’s a good one.

This question for you, especially as a musician, I’m like, “Oh, I can’t wait,” what is your hype song? If they are going to get full Paula Boggs 100%, what is a song that’s playing in your head when you’re going into whatever the thing is? Or if you’re having a bad day, what song is going to lift you up and take you to the place where you feel better? It can be the same song or different ones.

Paula Boggs: It is 100% the same song and it is Jill Scott’s Golden.

Paula Edgar: Oh, yes, I love it, I love it. That is such a fantastic song. I mean, it really is. It just brings you joy.

Paula Boggs: It just brings you joy.

Paula Edgar: It does. Well, let’s jump into your background. Where did you grow up and how do you think it shaped your brand?

Paula Boggs: The question of, “Where did you grow up?” is more complicated for me than most people. But I think the ingredients of that really tell the story of everything that came after. I was literally born on a college campus, Howard University, it was called Freedmen’s Hospital at the time.

My parents met as students there. My mom is from DC. I actually think it is prophetic that I was literally born on an HBCU campus. So after my dad received his PhD in Zoology from Howard, we relocated to Virginia, where he taught at Virginia State, then college, now Virginia State University, and HBCU.

That era of my life is important in a couple of significant ways because it was the first time in my life I was a minority within many minority groups. What do I mean by that? This is setting the table, the stage. This is Jim Crow, Virginia. Segregation is still alive and well—I’m that old—so it was still a thing.

Against that backdrop, I was literally living on a college campus. My world of Black people was a world of extremely highly educated Black people. Everybody I knew who was Black had a PhD, or a master’s degree or was a kid like me whose parents had those credentials and were teaching at an historically Black college.

My whole definition of what it means to be Black was largely shaped by being a toddler in that setting. But that wasn’t the only way I was a minority within a minority. My family was, or at least my dad was Roman Catholic. So Black Catholics are a minority within the Catholic faith. We are also a minority within the African-American community.

I learned very early in life how to navigate diversity and difference by being the one who was different in these settings. For me, the religion thing was even more complex, but I think instructive because my mom was not Catholic, she was African Methodist Episcopal.

Every other week, I would toggle between the Catholic Church and the AME Church learning how to be equally comfortable within both those faith traditions. If you listen to the music of Paula Boggs Band in 2024, you can still see and hear the influences of both the Roman Catholic Church and the AME Church in the music by right and we perform.

Paula Edgar: Wow. I’m a little bit shocked and like, “Why are you going every other [inaudible]?” Oftentimes people will tell the stories of having parents who had different religions and, they’d be like, “Oh, we celebrate Christmas and we celebrate Hanukkah.” You know what I mean?

But doing that at such a consistent cadence too must have been really interesting and definitely helped you be fluid in both those places. That’s the first time anyone has ever answered the question where I am like, “Ah.” Did you grow up through college staying in Virginia or did you go anywhere else?

Paula Boggs: Oh, absolutely not. That would be too boring. When I was 13, my parents split up and my mom, one of the most courageous acts I know of in my lifetime, took herself and her four children—me being the oldest—out of the United States, out of the segregated South, out of the United States, we moved to Europe, where she became a teacher for the children of military personnel.

When we got on that plane leaving Virginia, heading to Germany, we were entering two worlds we knew absolutely nothing about. The first was the US Military. We had never been around the military before that and knew nothing about that life, that culture.

Secondly, we knew nothing about Germany. We had never lived or even traveled even to Canada. I mean, we had never been outside the United States, so both those things happened. Automatically we were in a world we did not know where we were for the first time living in settings where our neighbors were of different races.

We were attending school where everything was integrated, where we shopped, where we socialized. For the first time in my life, white girls were coming over to my house to spend the night, and vice versa me. That had never happened in Virginia. It couldn’t happen in Virginia because of segregation.

Honestly, I didn’t even know interracial couples were possible. I didn’t even know that could be a thing. It was so otherworldly and yet it was so common when we got to Europe.

There was so much new, so much we had to navigate. Because of that, I became very, very comfortable with navigating different cultures and learning what the culture is, and figuring out how not to be the new kid.

Because I attended three different high schools in two countries because we moved from Germany to Italy for a year and then we moved back to Germany. Each time, I had to figure out and did figure out how to fit in, how to read the culture, and how to not seem exotic, even though objectively I was.

Those skills, those tools, I really had not thought about them consciously, but I was internalizing them and as an adult, they continue to show up and aid me as I navigated through the military law and now music often as the first or only in a setting.

Paula Edgar: That is to be a teenager. The culture shock must have been wild to go from. That is fascinating. It speaks so much volumes about how resilient really you must be, in addition to creative and observant, I’m sure, in terms of being able to figure out, “Who do I need to connect with? What are they doing?” Wow.

It’s why I love this podcast because we would never get into all of this at a cocktail party. But this is why I’m like, I selfishly just want everybody to hear all the conversations that I have with people who I admire. You are definitely one of them, that without even knowing that, that is wow. That’s how you grew up.

Paula Boggs: That’s how I grew up.

Paula Edgar: Then take me from your teenage and going to college, et cetera, to the military, and then to your career in law. Tell me about your career journey.

Paula Boggs: Yes, so as a high schooler, I was living on and around military bases. It really wasn’t that big a leap for someone like me to consider having the military pay for my college education and that’s exactly what I did.

I am of the era where for the first time, opportunities were opening for women, be it Title IX, I’m of the first generation of women to benefit from Title IX. I ran high school track and played other sports in ways that the generation before me was unable to.

As a high school senior, I was applying for scholarships, including military scholarships, that valued that part of me too. I was an athlete as well as a scholar. I applied for, got accepted into the US Naval Academy, and was one of the first women to receive an appointment to Annapolis, but I turned that down for a four-year Army ROTC scholarship at Johns Hopkins, studying international studies, which would of no surprise for someone like me who had just lived in Europe for five years by that time.

Studying international studies was a natural fit for me. That’s what I did. Went off to college, and my family, except for my dad, were still in Europe. I navigated that. I joked with my niece, these days, it’s a given that parents, if they can, accompany their kids to college and what not, but not me. I got on a plane by myself in Frankfurt, Germany, and flew to Baltimore, Washington International Airport by myself.

Then my uncle picked me up and took me to Johns Hopkins. A wholly different experience than many kids who go to college get these days. But I did my four years there, and then truthfully, I looked for a delay strategy in going into the Army Act of Duty, and law school was it.

Between my junior and senior year of college, I went to Airborne School. I became a paratrooper, I jumped out of planes. I learned how to jump out of planes despite being afraid to this day of heights. That’s a whole different story.

But I did that. I went to what the army calls advanced camp where cadets and college students play army for six weeks. For nine weeks, I had been in a situation where someone had told me when to get up, go to bed, what to wear, how to eat.

I get back to college and realize I’m not ready. I am so not ready for active duty. It was like, “Okay, yeah, but you’re at Hopkins. Let’s see if you can figure out a delay strategy.” The delay strategy for me was, “Okay. LSAT’s a first, I’ll take them and see how that plays out. If I do well, I’ll go to law school for two reasons. I mean, it’s three years versus two for a master’s and I’ll go in as a lawyer versus a quartermaster officer or something like that.”

Paula Edgar: Yes, that’s right.

Paula Boggs: That was my strategy. If that didn’t work, I was going to take the GMATs. LSATs were first, I took them, and I did fine. So I applied and ended up at UC Berkeley School of Law, which I thought was, first of all, a joke because it was a delay strategy, but secondly, I thought smugly and wrongly that unlike 99% of my classmates who didn’t have a clue what they were going to be doing after graduating from law school, I knew that I was going to serve four years in the Army.

Well, I did serve four years in the Army, but I didn’t have a clue what those four years were going to be. It ended up being well beyond my wildest imagination, including being in the Reagan White House working on the Iran-Contra investigation, which was my first job as a lawyer.

Now, your listeners and viewers must understand because it sounds kind of a storybook but the fact of the matter is, I failed the bar a couple of times right out of the gate. I almost didn’t become a lawyer. It was only through chutzpah really that I was able to talk myself into jobs I was wholly unqualified for once I failed the bar so that I could stay in the Pentagon, which is where I started, that ultimately led me to the White House.

But it was failure that forced me to be extremely entrepreneurial and to learn the art of talking my way into jobs that either didn’t exist when I was imagining them and trying to sell the idea to somebody, or they existed, but I was not traditionally qualified for that job so had to—apropos of what you’re talking about on your podcast—I had to sell myself as someone who, despite not meeting the bullets of the description, nonetheless, was something they should hire.

Paula Edgar: Oh, wow. Yes, that’s right.

Paula Boggs: Yeah, for your listeners, what that meant for me, and hopefully what it means for whoever’s listening to this and watching it is this: we are often more capable of doing something than we initially imagined.

For me as a leader, if you fast forward a generation, because I began my career that way, I was far more open as a leader to try to see that in somebody else. I know we’re going to talk later about diversity, equity, and inclusion. At the heart of my passion for it was the personal experiences that I had had early in my career where somebody or somebodies took a chance on me, an untraditional candidate for whatever it was they were considering me for.

Paula Edgar: You had navigated so many spaces in which you understood that diversity was a benefit and allowed you to be adaptable, resilient, and creative, and all those things.

Really, every single step that you have walked us through thus far is a testament to understanding grit, resilience, and diversity, and how it can be a benefit to any person, any candidate in this situation. Of course, I’m really glad that that was a takeaway that you pulled out because it’s so, so true. You Pentagon it enough, you’re doing all this stuff in the government, then what?

Paula Boggs: Yeah. Then I got a textbook lesson in mentoring and sponsorship. My good fortune early in my career was someone did that for me and I knew the difference. I’m at the White House. I’m working around the clock as you might imagine because the White House was in crisis mode during Iran-Contra, which at the time was the biggest scandal since Watergate in the White House.

Here we are. Parenthetically, this is Reagan’s White House, we’re not talking Clinton, Obama, or something like that. I was the only professional Black woman I saw the entire time I was at the White House.

If there was somebody else, I never saw them. The only professional Black man I saw was Colin Powell. Just setting the table here on the era. By definition, my boss was a middle-aged white guy. The important mentoring lesson here is—because he became both a mentor and a sponsor for me—is this: I have learned both as a beneficiary of mentoring and as one who has mentored, mentoring is a transactional thing. A mentor isn’t going to be invested in the mentee unless the mentor believes he or she’s getting something out of it too.

Part of it is seeing a younger them in the person they’re mentoring. At the time, I was a 20-something skinny Black woman with oversized glasses and nothing cool about me. Meanwhile, he was your quintessential preppy, middle-aged white guy, complete with the button-down collar and the whole nine yards.

On the surface, there wouldn’t appear to be a lot in common between him and me, but we learned there was. The thing was we were both Roman Catholic. The thing about Catholicism is it’s as much a culture as a religion.

There are certain milestones. If you’re Catholic, you know them. If you’ve attended Catholic school, which I did, first through sixth grade, and he did his entire 12 years, pre-college, we both knew that nuns can be domestic terrorists regardless of whether you are in Segregated Virginia, where I was, or St. Louis, where he was.

So we bonded over these stories, and before you knew it—and I was doing a good job—he could see the younger him in me, despite the superficial differences in who we were.

That benefited me on a couple of major levels. The first is this, this was the mentoring. Bill Litton is his name. Bill says to me, “Paula, what are you going to do when you grow up?” In other words, “When you complete your military commitment, what are you going to do?” I said, “Well, I don’t know, but I’m moving to Seattle.” Now, I had fallen in love with Seattle for a variety of reasons while in law school.

With that information, he says, “I think you should become a federal prosecutor. I think you should become an assistant US Attorney.” “Why is that, Bill?” He patiently goes through the case for what he has seen in me that leads him to a venerated federal prosecutor.

By the time Bill had come to the White House, he had been a prosecutor of renown, which is why the White House brought him in. He saw those things in me. That was nowhere on my map of what I was going to do next.

But he talked me into it at the end of which I said, “Well, Bill, that’s really interesting. But I’m moving to Seattle. We’re in DC at the White House. I’m moving to Seattle, 3,000 miles away.” He says, “Well, we have federal prosecutors in Seattle.”

With that, the mentoring became sponsorship because what Bill did was he reached out to the US Attorney’s Office in Seattle and persuaded them on his say-so to do something they had never done in the history of the US Attorney’s Office. Which was to hire someone—me—with zero trial experience.

I had never tried or been anywhere close to a courtroom. Bill knew I was—for a kid—I was an ace investigator. I knew how to put puzzles together. He saw that in me.

He knew how I presented and I had the good fortune of presenting to really important people, including the vice president and the president, but I had never stepped foot in a courtroom before the US Attorney’s Office took a leap on me, and they trained me.

I became a good assistant US Attorney, but I was a rank rookie when I first got there, and they never would have given me the time of day but for Bill. Very early in my career, I learned the difference of what mentoring was, and I learned what sponsorship was.

Paula Edgar: Yes. Sponsorship is putting yourself, and your brand on the line, aligning with someone else’s, and it’s like a hand-holding. I would say that if you’re mentoring somebody, they can mess up and it won’t come back on you, but if you are sponsoring somebody, people will look at you sideways because that’s your person.

You have [inaudible] said, “I’m going to give you all of my street cred, all of my influence in order for you to have opportunities.” That’s a perfect example of that happening for someone’s benefit.

I mean, I would say it’s probably a calculated really good risk, but still a risk. It’s someone without that experience and say, “Okay, yes, because you said, so we will do this.” That’s fantastic. Wow. Then Starbucks?

Paula Boggs: No.

Paula Edgar: I’m like, “This is so fascinating.”

Paula Boggs: Not at all. Starbucks is way down the road from that. My career is far more checkered than that. I was an assistant US attorney for five years and loved it but the thing about, and for anybody who has been a federal prosecutor, you know what I’m about to say is true, there are really two guys of federal prosecutors.

They’re either the ones who do it for three to five years and then move on to something else or the lifers. I knew I wasn’t lifer material for anything. I was in the three to five-year camp, and at five years, I got a great opportunity to return to DC for a year.

The scandal of that time was Tailhook, the incident arising in the Department of Navy where there had been an event where a variety of sexual misconduct acts took place.

A brave woman, another Paula, Paula Coughlin, raised her hand and was the whistleblower for what had gone down at Tailhook. That led to several investigations that were not satisfactory to the US Congress—shall we say—which led to them creating this thing called the Advisory Board on the Investigative Capability of the Department of Defense, and I was its staff director.

It was chaired by the late Chuck Ruff, who later became Clinton’s White House counsel. We did our work for a year and made findings and recommendations. Then I returned to Seattle and joined a private firm, a big firm at the time called Preston Gates & Ellis. The Gates being Microsoft Bill Gates’s father.

That wasn’t really my cup of tea. That was not my calling. I did it for a couple of years and that was enough for me to understand what I needed in a job to be fulfilled and what I was not getting in the firm.

I needed to be in a setting that was more team-oriented, more mission-oriented, where it was bigger than me. I decided that for someone like me, if it wasn’t government, it meant being in-house.

With that, I left the firm, got an opportunity to join Dell Computer Corporation. Moved from Seattle to Austin, and became Dell’s first Black female executive in its history. The Black guy who came before me got there I think six weeks before me, he officially was the first but I was close behind him and I was also that company’s first openly gay executive.

I was breaking ground left and right at Dell and did that for five years before becoming Starbucks’s general counsel and doing that for 10 years.

Paula Edgar: I mean well let’s just keep it real. You’ve been breaking ground for your whole life. In my mind right now I’m like, “If I have a problem, whatever it is, I should tell Paula because she will be able to figure it out.” My goodness, what a career. How long have you been a musician?

Paula Boggs: Yes. How long have I been a musician that I own, as opposed to my parents forcing me to do something I wasn’t entirely bought into? They had the great insight to expose all of their children to music at an early age.

I began with piano. I didn’t like it. I realize now I didn’t like the teacher. But nonetheless, I didn’t. I tried a couple of different things before landing on guitar at age 10.

Part of that was due to where I was. I was in Catholic school during a time when folk music was emerging in the Catholic church, so I absorbed all of that. Within a relatively short period, I was writing music.

From age 10 through, I would say, age 30-ish, less and less over time, I was still performing and writing music. I think the biggest break for me in terms of just not doing music anymore, not performing it, not writing it, was when I left the Catholic Church in my early 30s because that had been an outlet for me to continue to perform even as my law career climbed.

But once that was in my rearview mirror—music pretty much was too—I was still an aficionado, I love music and a diverse array of it, but performing it, writing it, no. That was my story for about 15 years as I was doing other stuff, President Gates, Dell.

Paula Edgar: I know, I’m like, “A couple of things that made you busy, it’s all good.”

Paula Boggs: Yes, but I really want your readers, viewers, and listeners to come away with this. At least in my life experience, nothing has been a straight line. Nothing, absolutely nothing.

I would not have predicted a return to music, but life’s funny that way. In my case, back in 2005, my youngest brother’s wife was killed in a car accident, leaving my brother and a two-year-old, Jada, who we eventually helped raise.

My wife really urged me to pick up the guitar as a way to grieve. So I did. But once I did, I was re-engaged with an instrument I’ve always loved. It wasn’t long after picking up the guitar again, I learned about a one-year course offered by the University of Washington, their extension program in songwriting.

I auditioned, urged by my wife, and got in and so for a year, I was part of a community of songwriters, actually for the first time. At the end of that year, so we’re in ’06 now, my teacher pulled me aside and said—it was a mentoring moment—she said, “Paula, I really think you have something with songwriting, and what a shame it would be if you didn’t keep going.”

Now for me, I’m Starbucks’s General Counsel, I mean, Starbucks more than tripled in size during the decade I was there so I didn’t know what “keep going” was going to mean for someone like me. But I decided at the beginning of ’07 that it could mean me doing one open mic a month.

That’s what it became for me. On that journey, I met a couple of musicians, one of whom we still play together. By the beginning of ’08, we had our first gig. The January ’08, Paula Boggs Band was not only a thing, but we were performing.

I stayed at Starbucks another four years after that, but with each passing month, I knew I was called to do something different. It was really important for me—and this is a message I like to leave for your people—it was so important for me to dismount in the right way, leaving something is sort of like gymnastics. You can do triple flips and be the thing since slice bread, but if you flub the dismount, that’s what people remember.

I thought about it, but it was not my time to leave Starbucks when Obama was running for president in ’08, which was “the guy” for me in my lifetime, he was “the guy” and I ultimately volunteered for him in 2012, but ‘08 was not the time, because Starbucks was still in the throes of a recession, people forget that because Starbucks has been so wildly successful before then and since then.

But in that ’07, ’08, and ’09 timeframe, Starbucks was really fighting for its life. I was not going to leave Starbucks that way. By the time I left in 2012, Starbucks was well on its way to the Starbucks we see today. It was swinging, it had figured a lot of stuff out.

Importantly, for me, I had groomed two people I believed could do my job. I did not believe that in ’08, but by 2012 I did. That’s what I told Howard Schultz, “I have no control over who you pick following me.”

But I knew what I needed to do, which was to prepare this company for choices, internal choices, and I’ve done that. Thus my job is done. The company did pick one of those people, Lucy Helm followed me as general counsel, someone who’d worked for me for a decade.

Paula Edgar: Wow. I love the takeaway of making sure your dismount is one that, it’s kind of like when people say don’t burn bridges, but not in that same way where I’m always like, “Some of them need to be burned.” But that’s not the point. How you leave impacts your brand too.

Paula Boggs: Yes.

Paula Edgar: Because it’s a part of your legacy and it’s a part of your story. If you have done all these fantastic things, but then you’re like, “Bye, I don’t care what happens to you,” then you’re right. I love that as a takeaway because people don’t talk about that part as often.

They really talk about the meat of when you’re someplace, but not how you make sure it’s going to be okay. I think that’s a true mark of leadership, and good leaders to be able to say, “This is my legacy.” It’s also the way you mentor, and it’s how you advise also when you’re leaving too.

That is a fantastic takeaway. Speaking of which, let’s talk about leadership. Given all the things you’ve already told—and I’m sitting here truly, truly, and my listeners know, they can hear when I’m in awe—but knowing all that you’ve known and seeing leadership in all these things, but literally the White House, actually in the military, all of these different places and being in leadership in all these organizations, what are the characteristics, what are the attributes of a good leader to you?

Paula Boggs: We hear this term bandied around a lot, but when a leader truly believes it and internalizes it, I believe amazing things happen. The term is “servant leadership.” When I got to Starbucks, I was not a servant leader. I was like, “Hey, I’m in my early 40s. I’m General Counsel of this iconic Fortune 500 company. I’m pretty hot.” That was the mindset I had when I got to Starbucks.

Within, I don’t know, six months of joining Starbucks, the CEO at the time, Orin Smith—loved him, the late Orin Smith—calls me into his office and starts with, “Paula, you and I are a lot alike.” I don’t know where he’s going with this. What is this? He was this sort of avuncular wise guy and I don’t think I ever saw Orin get angry.

But here we are, him and me. He says, “You and I are a lot alike. We’ve both made a lot of sacrifices to get to the top of our respective careers. I’m at the top of mine. You’re at the top of yours, but here’s the deal. The skills, the tactics, and the techniques that got us to the mountaintop may not be those things that best serve us now that we’re here.”

That’s what he said to me. Of course, initially, I was offended. Again, I was defensive, I was offended. I was like, “What, this guy doesn’t know me. What is he talking about? Blah, blah, blah.” But he did know me and he was calling it as he saw it.

Over time I was able to receive that message, not initially, but over time I was. The organization I was honored to lead was the beneficiary of me getting that message and internalizing it because it changed dramatically the lens through which I saw what I was doing and why I was doing.

I’ve been gone from Starbucks for over a decade. But people still come up to me, both people who worked for me, people who never worked for me who have come after I left, people who were my peers or worked in organization sales, HR, you name it, and they say, “Paula, the department is still your department.”

What they mean by that—I mean, it’s not my department, I mean, it has had three or four general councils since I left, but the values of law and corporate affairs remain—the values of treating each other with respect and dignity, the values of centering the organization in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and making that everybody’s story, that’s what they mean by that.

If the question presented is, “What is your legacy? What did you want your legacy to be?” It is that. That’s what I wanted. The beauty of the afterlife, the post-Paula not just Starbucks, but what has happened with people who were part of that thing, the decade I was there, so many of them have become general counsel themselves across the country, actually not just the United States, but some have become general counsel in Europe or in Asia.

They as general counsel have, in wherever they’re working now, been guided by, because they tell me, “Paula, in my organization, diversity, equity, and inclusion is central to how I lead.” They tell me this. That’s the only reason I know so I know that whatever effort I put into Starbucks is something that keeps giving. It has life well beyond anything I could possibly have imagined.

Paula Edgar: Well, I mean, my listeners will remember that Sabrina was on the podcast, and she talked about mentoring and diversity, and all of those things are the values and ethos of Starbucks.

We have the pleasure of actually hearing about a lot of the catalysts of that culture-building and seeing some of the subsequent things that have come from it. I love hearing that background.

I’ll say personally, you and I spoke at the same conference—I don’t know how many years ago that was—it was from Ms. JD. I remember, [inaudible] was like, “Yeah, Paula this–” and I was like, “Why did they say my name? I’m sitting right here.” They’re like, “There’s another Paula.” I was like, “Another Paula?” [inaudible] “But that’s my name.” So I said, “Who’s this Paula?”

I will never forget hearing you speak. You spoke, then I remember, I was like, “Oh, my God, she’s so great.” You didn’t even give half of the story that you’ve given today. It was a snippet, but you were so passionate about authenticity.

I mean, it still sits with me because I was like, “Gosh, I can’t imagine.” I mean, again, my listeners know that I can only show up as Paula, like, “This is who I am.” But you give people bravery, permission, a path to own their authenticity.

I want to take a personal privilege to be able to say I thank you for that because I remember being like, “Well, if she can do it, her name is Paula too, I can do it as well.” Your impact is profound, because I told somebody else I was going to be interviewing you, I was like, “I’m so excited I’m interviewing her.” You have no idea.

Now, I realize what they were talking about because you have been through hills and valleys and done all this stuff. But it’s not so often that people get flowers when they’re here.

So let this be a time where I say to you that you should know—and I’m glad people keep telling you—that you have a profound impact and—I’m going to take another point—being a musician coming from doing all the things you’ve done, if someone were to say to me like, “Paula, hey, you can do X, Y, Z,” I’d be like, “No, no, no, LOL, I could not.”

But you show people that you can be a lot of things. If there was a Paula Boggs Barbie doll, you would have a lot of outfits. I knew that this conversation was going to be great.

I’m going to, number one, say to you, I would love to have you on at another time so we can talk about some more. But because this is the time that I always say to my folks three questions that I have to ask you at the end of this with the hope that we have a chance to talk again. One, what do you do for fun, Paula? Don’t say play the guitar.

Paula Boggs: What do I do for fun? I do a lot of things for fun. Music is my job now, but it also brings me tremendous joy. When I’m cooking on all cylinders, it’s bringing other people joy too. I feed off their joy, as do other members of the band. That is certainly a source of joy.

Family is very important to me. We’re, for the most part, a loud Black family and a loud Jewish family. We laugh a lot, and we tell jokes. I’m not one of them, but there are many funny people in my family.

I enjoy the humor of my brother Cornell—who some of your listeners may know—is an incredibly funny man. He has this demeanor of like the Black Clark Kent kind of thing. But he is a very funny guy. I cherish every moment I get to spend with him because, among the things, I know I’m going to laugh.

Paula Edgar: Wait a minute. I just remembered I saw you all speak. Am I remembering this? Are you twins?

Paula Boggs: We’re not. I mean, we were virtually, we were 13 months apart.

Paula Edgar: I was like, “Okay, okay, there’s something that I’m forgetting.” Okay, good. All right, yes, gosh.

Paula Boggs: I mean, look alike.

Paula Edgar: I realize I’ve been fan-girling you for a really long time, but I’m having a moment. Okay, my next question is this. Stand by your brand. What is an element of your brand that you will never compromise on?

Paula Boggs: Authenticity. I think people expect that from me, and I expect it from myself. As I was saying to somebody recently in law, I recognize I’m in a catbird’s seat in the following way when it comes to law, because I no longer practice law and I’m beholden to no one, I can deliver messages that others might not be able to deliver because they’ve got a boss or they’ve got whatever. I have none of that.

So there is absolutely no excuse for me when it comes to law and the law profession to just speak my truth 100% unvarnished and I recognize that’s a gift. I want to honor that gift because I know there are people who wish they could, for whatever reason, can’t. I want to be that, not just for myself, but for them too.

Paula Edgar: Yes, there are a lot of things in the law that need to be said. I’ll leave it at that. My podcast’s name is Branding Room Only, which is a play on the word standing room only, and so—for you as a musician, this might be an even more interesting answer—what is the aspect about you, what is the experience of Paula Boggs that somebody would be in a room with only standing room to experience?

Paula Boggs: That’s the joy. Getting back to the joy, some of the songs are sad, certainly, but we always begin and end with joy and it is palpable. People feel that because it’s authentic. It’s not an act. We feel joyful.

Paula, I can’t tell you how many people over the years have come to us after a show or whatever and said, “I feel better now than when I walked in the room. You give me hope.”

That is really the most important part of my brand because yeah, the songwriting is masterful, you look good on stage, whatever. Those are great things to hear, to feel, and whatnot. But if we, and I personally can bring joy into the space wherever we are—and I feel that same way about public speaking—if I can spark joy, then I’ve accomplished the mission.

Paula Edgar: Well, without knowing this, my listeners who have been here for a good time, a good long time, know that my word of the year is “joy” this year.

Paula, you have brought me extreme joy as my guest in hearing your story and hearing your takeaways. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. Everybody, go run, tell all the friends and even your enemies, I don’t care, they need to hear about Paula Boggs and how we had this Paula times two collabo. All of you download, follow, share, and I’ll talk to you soon. Thanks for being in the Branding Room. I appreciate you so much, Paula.

Paula Boggs: Thanks for having me, Paula. Take care everyone.