Commissioner Paula LaBrie
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
My biggest inspiration would be Clyde and Marian LaBrie. Those would be my parents. As the story goes, it was love at first sight before they got married, and they were almost married 50 years. My father passed away the year they were going to have their 50th wedding anniversary. They raised eight children, and I’m number six. They made every sacrifice to make sure we had everything we could. They taught us that you can overcome any hurdle, how to work as a team, how to stay focused and how to appreciate.
My parents were big on education, even back then, and they made so many sacrifices. For example, all eight of us went to private schools, grammar school, and high school. That’s a big financial commitment. So, we went without other things, we didn’t have fancy clothes and we didn’t have fancy food, and we didn’t have a fancy car, but we had what we needed, and we were loved. All eight of us, except for one with Multiple Sclerosis who got too sick, graduated from college. Three of us have postgraduate degrees.
My parents also were instrumental in helping other African-Americans get into private elementary schools. The schools just weren’t admitting enough African Americans and my parents realized this injustice and wanted to correct it.
How did you choose your path?
My path kind of chose me. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I knew I had to do something, that was a given. In addition, many new doors were beginning to open for women and people of color so I was grateful for those who paved the way and could loan me their shoulders to stand on.
I started at Merritt community college in the horticulture department, got my AA degree in art, and was like, ‘Now what do I do?’ I enrolled in Cal State Hayward (recently re-named Cal State East Bay) and got my B.S. in business with an emphasis in both finance and marketing. I really liked marketing; I was always attracted to the creative.
When I left college, I got a job at IBM and did that for a while, and then decided, along with some peers, to go to law school. I got into (The University of California, Hastings College of the Law). I remember my parents saying ‘Have you lost your mind? You have this great job at IBM, you finished college, that’s all we’ve asked of you.’ And I said, ‘No no, let me do this.’
I was 27 when I started law school, and that’s kind of old! But I wasn’t afraid of it, I just said let me just do it.
After law school, I went to work for a civil litigation firm in San Francisco and got a lot of experience there. After that, I went to AAA (American Automobile Association/Insurance) as in- house counsel and also earned a Master’s of Law (LLM) in government and public policy at McGeorge School of Law.
After about 18 years at AAA, Governor Brown appointed me as chief deputy director of the California State Lottery. And that’s how I got my start into gaming. I was with the Lottery until I was appointed here (CGCC) when this position opened up in 2017.
And this goes toward another question you asked me, in terms of what I was proud when it came to my career; I said I don’t let it define me. And I have this philosophy that, to work hard, you can’t get from Point A to Point Z without going through Point B, C, and D. Work hard, take the hits when they come, learn as much as you can, and be ready to walk through whatever door’s going to open up for you. It’s served me well.
What kind of advice would you give to people who keep finding themselves being defined, and want to still keep the doors open but don’t necessarily know how to plug into that dialogue because there are all these walls being built?
It’s very challenging today in terms of polarization and I think social media has a lot to do with it. It’s just so easy to put people in boxes. Your personal information is collected through Big Data and that information can be widespread through social media. I kind of frown on that in some ways; just because I looked at an ad for such and such doesn’t mean I want that every day, you know, I do have some flexibility and many interests!
So, it is really hard. Be open, and have your point of view. But also, we can’t learn and move on unless we truly listen to other people and be part of the conversation, and not judge what they’re thinking or who they are. No one person is the smartest person in the room. No one person is better than anybody else. We all have something to offer – everybody. And so if you’re open-minded enough, you can see the good in just about anything, and take that and just ignore the negative part. And you have to kind of learn that when you have seven brothers and sisters! There’s always a way to find a compromise.
What do you enjoy most about being Commissioner?
What I enjoy most about this is the type of work, in that it’s academic and analytical, and in a sense it’s problem-solving. I like to be able to sit down, read, think through, and look at the problem from many lenses. There is the law, there are the facts, and there are your life and educational experience. All this needs to be taken into account. So I do that analysis, and I’m hoping that I’m helping to contribute to the positive in the industry.
What do you think is the most challenging thing in this industry?
I think it is that balance between offering a product of entertainment, that’s meant to be fun, and that too much product usage can have devastating effects – the problem gambling side. I know the Office of Problem Gambling is doing really good things. And, within the industry, I think they’re doing what they can to help in that area.
What kind of advice would you give to people who are trying to help out in the community?
I would say to find the cause that you’re passionate about or is comforting for you, whether it be working with animals, landscaping, or working with homeless persons or children. Find an area that will fulfill you, do your part, and know that you’re not going to solve the whole problem. You’re just a piece of the team that is working to make some progress. Each one, teach one. You won’t be the first one to come in and see the need and try to help out, and you won’t be the last one. Be impactful when it’s your time to be there and do that, and leave some footsteps for others to follow.
Is there a social cause or issue that is closer to your heart than others?
It has changed over the years. Right now what I’m really looking at is assisting physically disadvantaged persons. I grew up with one, I know what it’s like. I have close relatives that are facing the same thing, and I think it is really important for society to be open and ready to allow them to be a part of it.
What advice would you give someone who wants to establish a career in public service?
The process could take longer, things aren’t going to turn on a dime. So, I would say be patient. You can still get things done! Also, every type of discipline is needed in the public sector. If there’s something that you’re very passionate about, you can probably find a job in the public sector that can fulfill that passion, because there are many opportunities.
What is one fun fact about you that very few other people know?
There’s a bunch actually, I’ll give you a few to choose from. I love roller coasters. It’s just so fun, you feel free! I love solving jigsaw puzzles. And, I’m kind of a DIY girl. I’ve reconstructed walls, tiled fireplaces, built tables and put mosaic tile on them. I painted the whole interior of the house by myself.
If there was one thing you could change about the industry what would it be?
I think that the industry is going to continue to evolve; and, part of the challenge is the changing of the business models, the business environment, the consumer attitude. The industry will need to keep up with that and evolve with it. It’s important for all of the stakeholders to be involved in identifying where the issues are and what solutions may be there, where we can compromise to really solve this in a meaningful way. So I think the industry has to continue, as well as the Commission and all stakeholders, to keep our eyes open.