Five Tips from a Successful Businessman: Paula Harper Bethea

Accomplished executive and volunteer Paula Harper Bethea offers advice for success.

Story By: Eddy Hoyle

Paula Harper Bethea was an original member of the South Carolina Lottery Commission and served as CEO from 2009-2016. She now serves as the senior advisor to the President of the University of South Carolina and owns her own consulting firm. She currently serves as vice chair of the board of South State Bank, chair of the board of J.M. Smith Corporation, chair of the board of Hargray’s Caring Coins Foundation, and is a member of the Heritage Classic Foundation board of directors.

Bethea previously chaired the boards of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, Columbia College and the Centers of Economic Excellence. She is chairman emeritus of the United Way of America’s Board of Governors and a former member of the board of directors of United Way International. She received the state’s highest honor, the Order of the Palmetto, for her service to South Carolina.

Bethea is a native South Carolinian and a graduate of the University of South Carolina. She lives in Bluffton with her husband, Bill. Here are her tips for success.

Keys to Success

1. Be all you can be. Bethea is known for wearing a jeweled bumble bee pin on her shoulder. “When I was 16 years old, I was sitting on an ottoman in front of my daddy’s chair. He said, ‘Sweetheart, aerodynamically, bees shouldn’t be able to fly because of the ratio of their body weight to their wing span. But they fly anyway!’ He died on New Year’s Day, six months later, but had great expectations for me, so I wear the pin every day of my life. I call it my ‘Be All You Can Be Bee.’ I must be involved in efforts to make life better. Success is about having an impact, so no matter what you do, be involved in something greater and more impactful than yourself.” 

2. The great equalizer. No matter who you are, or where you come from, you can realize dreams through education. “Education is the great equalizer,” Bethea explained. “If we ever hope to be all that we’re capable of being, education is the key.” Education opens your mind to what is possible, nurtures curiosity and gives you the power of lifelong learning to improve yourself and your career, she said.

3. Opportunities abound. “Be mindful of opportunities available to you. Be true to yourself and to where you are on your path. Know your limitations, don’t be harnessed by the size of your own expectations,” she said. “And loyalty really does matter. Whatever you do, stick with it. A deep and abiding loyalty creates a sense of responsibility and obligation to being part of something. Stay long enough at a job to understand the essence of the place.”

4. Collaborative leadership. “It’s important to be proud of who you are. As a woman, I’ve learned to use my femininity as an asset, never as a crutch or excuse,” Bethea said. Regardless of race, gender, or class, be proud of your identity, be happy and surround yourself with strong people. “As a leader, I never thought of people as working for me. I work with them. I learn, celebrate people, underpin them, make them feel secure and appreciated. When they feel that, they give everything they’ve got.”

5. Work hard. “Have a strong work ethic. Come in early, stay late. Be proficient. Always do more than is expected, but keep a balance between work and love, what I call family,” she said. “Be intent on finding balance. I am blessed because Bill and my friends accept me the way I am, and I hold my faith at my center.”



LOCAL SINCE 1977 Paula Harper Bethea was Grand Marshal of the Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1999. She is also shown with her favorite little Gamecocks, and with a few of her Christmas decorations. Bethea has been recognized on many levels professionally as well as for her contributions to our community.