Bhavana Boggs, vice president and assistant general counsel of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C., a subsidiary of Marriott International, Inc., considers herself a problem spotter and solver. In her current role, her key areas of focus are managing the long-term agreements with owners of The Ritz-Carlton’s assets, general operations and compliance, and protecting and advancing The Ritz-Carlton brand.
Ritz-Carlton’s legendary culture of employee empowerment suits Boggs well. She describes herself as being “very integrated” with the business and having a deep commitment to the company’s strategic goals.
“It’s very important to have strong relationships with the entire management team,” Boggs said in an interview at Ritz-Carlton’s corporate offices in Chevy Chase, Maryland. “It’s much better to be providing advice and guidance upfront rather than waiting until something becomes a bigger issue.”
“It’s much better to be providing advice and guidance upfront rather than waiting until something becomes a bigger issue.” Bhavana Boggs
Boggs stressed that building and maintaining good relationships is key to a successful legal career. “When you have credibility with your colleagues, they involve you right from the start,” she said.
Boggs began her career as a labor and employment lawyer. “I planned on practicing corporate law, but the head of the Labor and Employment Practice in the firm (of Young, Conaway, Stargatt & Taylor) asked for my help with some of his work,” she said, remembering that there was “no grand plan” leading her to employment law. “I think being flexible, especially when you first start out, is important,” she added.
She moved to Reed Smith’s labor and employment employment practice in Washington, D.C., after getting married to her husband, J.C., also a lawyer specializing in government advocacy and public policy. While at Reed Smith, she received a call from an attorney at Marriott, who heard she was looking for a home in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. During the call, he said one of her colleagues thought Boggs would be an ideal candidate for a labor and employment position at Marriott.
“I was very happy at Reed Smith,” Boggs said. “I told him that I was not interested in leaving the firm, but I would love to see the house he was selling. I did not buy the house, but I ended up joining Marriott,” she said, still surprised by the outcome of that call.
Boggs describes Marriott as a “wonderful place to practice employment law.” The company earned $12 billion in revenues last year, has 325,000 employees worldwide, and managed and franchised 3,800 lodging properties in seventy-four countries and territories.
Born and raised in India until age 15, Boggs studied international affairs as an undergraduate student at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. She had a vague idea of becoming a lawyer and after graduating took a job as a paralegal at Skadden Arps in New York, which confirmed her interest.
“I heard about Dickinson from lawyers in Delaware, where Skadden has an office,” Boggs said. “I wanted some place small, close to home (her family lived in New Jersey at the time), and affordable.” Boggs said that “one of the best experiences she had was an internship at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a 20-minute drive from the Carlisle campus. “It’s really important to get outside the classroom,” she said. “Moot court teams are another good choice for getting good experience,” she said.
Boggs continues to stay in touch with one of her favorite professors, Gary Gildin. She recalls that “Rather than teaching evidence from a standard casebook, Professor Gildin used case studies and challenged us to think on our feet,” a skill that has served her well.
“I have fond and vivid memories of Bhavana, in her capacity as my research assistant sitting next to me as I deposed the principal of an area high school in a pro bono civil liberties case,” said Gildin, who is now senior associate dean. “Even then, she displayed the keen judgment and strategic thinking of an experienced attorney.”
Marriott’s general counsel recognized Boggs’ value as well. When they asked her if she was interested in general operations work for Ritz-Carlton Boggs left behind the comfortable world of labor and employment law. In addition to operational legal issues, she gets pulled into a wide range of projects. For example, she helped to edit The New Gold Standard: Five Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company by Dr. Joseph A. Michelli.
“I worked on the agreement for the book and when it came time to do reviews and edits, it fell to me and has been one of the most unexpected and interesting experiences I’ve had in my career. I can look at portions of the book and say, ‘those are my words’,” she said.
She describes a negotiation over a super-luxury yacht in the Middle East; working on agreements with celebrity chefs; and traveling to China, Russia, and Oman, where Ritz-Carlton has properties. Boggs has enjoyed her experiences in both a firm and on the corporate side. “Some people may believe that the hours are better or more relaxed in-house. But Ritz-Carlton is a 24/7 global business.
"I enjoy being involved in the business and the diversity of my work. My clients are wonderful people with a passion for excellence. Juggling this job and having sufficient time with my husband, who is busy himself, and my daughter, can be a challenge, but I am lucky to be a part of a terrific company with such interesting work.”