Paula Shugart is departing the Miss Universe Organization after 23 years as president, she revealed on Thursday night in El Salvador — where this year’s event is set to take place on Saturday. Shugart’s exit comes following news that Thailand-based Miss Universe owner JKN Global Group had filed for bankruptcy in its country, but insiders said Shugart’s announcement was unrelated to that news and had been in the works for a long time prior to that news.

Shugart shared the news of her departure while on stage at Thursday night’s National Costume Show portion of the Miss Universe pageant.

“In my 25 years at Miss Universe, we expanded global reach for this iconic entertainment brand by focusing on telling the stories of these incredible women,” Shugart said in an exclusive statement to Variety.” But more important than numbers and metrics, I’ve learned what it means to truly be a transformational leader. Leadership is not just about one person, but putting the needs of the team above all else in creating a vision for the future. We lived that vision here at Miss Universe, and it propels me forward into my next act.”

Shugart has served as president of the Miss Universe Organization since 2001; she first joined as vice president of production in 1998. Her duties have included overseeing production of the annual Miss Universe telecast and also overseeing all business transactions.

In the press release announcing her departure, Shugart added that “as a producer, it is time for me to move on to the next act.”

Shugart joined MUO in 1998 as the Vice President of Production and was appointed President in 2001. Her role has included overseeing all business transactions and as well as production of the live worldwide telecast each year.

The role of president won’t be replaced. Shugart said her next focus will include philanthropic projects like Harnaaz Sandhu’s Global Menstrual Equity Accelerator. The producer and exec has worked with several groups related to opportunities for women and other initiatives; among the orgs that have honored her over the years include Smile Train and Gilda’s Club.

Shugart’s other credits include serving as the commissioner to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Latin Media and Entertainment Commission and working as a member of the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She’s also on the Dean Advisory Council to Ohio University Scripps College of Communication.

Shugart has also been instrumental in making Miss Universe more inclusive, as the pageant first began allowing transgender participation in 2012. More recently, Miss Universe began allowing contestants who had been married, or have children.

Shugart has continued to work with CEO Amy Emmerich, who joined in 2022 in evolving Miss Universe in recent years — particularly after it was purchased in October 2022 by JKN Global Group PCL (run by CEO Anne Jukapong Jakrajutatip) from previous owner IMG. Among recent milestones: A multi-year deal with Roku and Telemundo to continue as the U.S. streaming and broadcast homes for the pageant, in both English and Spanish, respectively.

This Satuday’s 72nd annual “Miss Universe” event reps the second time it will be streamed on Roku. L.A.-based production company InventTV, run by Sergio Alfaro, joined to executive produce alongside Shugart and Jakrajutatip. Maria Menounos, Olivia Culpo and Jeannie Mai are this year’s hosts.

“I am so proud of what the organization has accomplished during my tenure,” Shugart said. “I have tried to exemplify that true beauty is based on confidence and using your voice. We have worked hard to change the rules to be more inclusive, including opening the door to transgender women more than a decade ago.”


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