Bill Boggs Takes on Success

Class of ’62 | Bill Boggs C’62 ASC’64 cannot stop asking questions.

For decades, he’s been interviewing people, drawing out the details of their lives, finding out what makes them tick. His curiosity has served him well: He’s won four Emmys for his TV hosting duties, dished with celebrities on the Food Network, and penned a one-man off-Broadway show based on his life.

Now, he’s the author of a book of answers. His new book, Got What It Takes? Successful People Reveal How They Made it to the Top, was published in April by Harper Collins (

“Something about the concept of success has always fascinated me,” he says during a telephone call from the Manhattan apartment he shares with his wife, publishing executive Carol Campbell Boggs, and their dachshund, Pip.

“You take two people, maybe one comes from a family with more money, able to go to a better school, starts out with more advantages in life—and somebody else, coming from a more disadvantaged background, ends up prevailing.

“Why does one leap above the rest?”

Over the course of a year, he sat down with famous actors, politicians, sports stars, business owners, and others, and asked them: Why are you successful? What role has luck played in your life? How do you make decisions? How do you cultivate confidence? He also wanted to learn from his subjects how they maintain faith in themselves during difficult times, how they conquer fear and keep moving forward.

Many of the answers resonated with Boggs—including comments by former Penn President Judith Rodin CW’66 Hon’04 about successful people learning from failure. “I always tried to avoid failing,” he says. “But she and others were saying that if you don’t fail, you’re not taking risks, and if you don’t take risks, you’re not going to grow.”

Television producer Mark Burnett’s responses also hit home with him: “He said, when you start a project, be aware that it’s not going to go exactly the way you think it is, and if you have that kind of flexibility, as you move forward you will bend like a supple tree in the wind. But if you’re rigid and holding onto ‘No, it’s gotta be this way,’ you will feel tension and the tension will break you.”

He also related to writer Anna Quindlen’s comments about fear holding people back: “She says, take that fear, write it on a piece of paper, put it in your pocket, take it out and rip it up and throw it away.”

Others quoted in Got What it Takes? include Matt Lauer, Renee Zellweger, Brooke Shields, Bill O’Reilly, Sir Richard Branson, chef Bobby Flay, music executive Clive Davis, and Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeff Lurie. Along with Rodin, Penn alums Donald Trump W’68 and heart surgeon/author Dr. Mehmet Oz M’86 WG’86 provide inspiration in the book, though it was just by happenstance that they were fellow alums.

“If you take 44 successful people, a certain percentage in my guess will be graduates of the University of Pennsylvania,” says Boggs, who, in addition to being a student at Penn, also served as assistant dean of men from 1967 to 1968.

As a child, Boggs drew inspiration from Golden Age radio personalities Art Linkletter, Arthur Godfrey, and Don McNeil. In his varied career, he has hosted New York-based Midday Live with Bill Boggs, NBC-TV’s Weekend Today in New York, and the Food Network’s Bill Boggs’ Corner Table.

These days Boggs appears regularly on the interactive news call-in program The Call, which airs on the New York 1 television station; hosts Simon Super Chefs Live, a nationwide culinary tour that runs for several months; and gives motivational speeches. And he’s the star of the off-Broadway one-man show Talk Show Confidential, which began in 2003 and runs once a month at the Triad Theater. He’s also developing new television programs he hopes to host.

But after more than 25 years in show business, Boggs has learned to enjoy time away from work. He carves out personal time for traveling with his wife and with his grown son, Trevor, as well as for visiting his mother at the family home in Philadelphia. He’s become enamored of sea cruises, and has taken seven.

“I can sit on the beach and read all day if I’m at the beach,” he says. “I have more than one speed. My wife has two speeds—‘on’ and ‘off.’ I have ‘on,’ which is on frequently, but I can also be very laid-back and relaxed, which you need to be able to do. In my 30 years in New York, I’m able to offset the craziness of the city with downtime.”

Of his own path to success, he says, “Part of it was a belief that I did have a God-given talent. And that faith in myself, that belief in myself, helped to give me a will to prevail.” His mother continually told him he could achieve anything he wanted if he worked at it. His father taught him to treat people kindly and with respect.

“I’ve had some jobs I didn’t like—grocery bagger, waiter, bellhop, mailman,” he admits. “But I’ve always been ambitious. I always wanted to do something with my life.

“I’ve been lucky,” he admits. “I made contacts; I did not burn bridges; I tried to be a good person and help people on the way up. I’m not perfect—I’ve had a bigger ego at times than I should have had—but I had a passion and I followed that path.”

—Mia Geiger

Profiles : Events :
Notes : Obituaries

Atlanta’s civic savior Shirley Franklin G’69 Hon’07
Philadelphia’s (likely) next mayor Michael Nutter W’79
Supreme putter Brad Lebo C’83 D’90
Success secret-sharer Bill Boggs C’62 ASC’64
Pulitzer Prize-winner Steve Stecklow C’76
Norwegian knight Olaf Halvorssen W’66 WG’68

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Last modified 06/28/07