Oprah Winfrey: "An American Ri$k Taker"



Oprah Winfrey is one of the richest and most powerful American women. She is sort of America’s alter ego, a woman loved and admired by everyone, worshiped by all types of TV audiences. Oprah Winfrey is also the Chairwoman, CEO, and CCO of her own company Oprah Winfrey Network. Winfrey does it all in her uniquely sincere manner never bulldozing her way to the top. She is the embodiment of American spirit and commercial success.

Oprah Winfrey life story is a great example of a woman who has moved from rags to riches, risen from poverty to the top of the world, who changed America and the world for the better. She is the first African-American female billionaire.

Early Life

Oprah Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954, in Kosciusko, Mississippi, United States. Oprah’s real name was “Orpah”. She was named after the biblical character, Ruth’s daughter-in-law in the Book of Ruth. However, nobody called the girl Orpah. Neither her parents nor her friends could pronounce Orpah. That is why they decided to change it even in her birth certificate to Oprah.

Oprah Winfrey had a very difficult childhood. Her mother, Vernita Lee, a housemaid, and biological father, Vernon Winfrey, a miner and later a barber, were never married. When Oprah Winfrey was born, her father was far away in the army serving at a naval base. Oprah’s mother moved to Milwaukee to work as a maid, having left little Oprah on a farm with her strict grandmother. If Winfrey misbehaved or did not do what she was ordered to, her grandmother oftentimes beat her with a stick.

In her early childhood, Oprah had no idea what the shoes were. Neither did she have a dress, a luxury that she first received to go to school. The seclusion of the farm where Oprah was growing up forced her to make up and create her own ways of entertainment. She made friends with household animals and found a true consolation in books. There was no television on the farm, and according to Winfrey, it was her grandmother, Hattie Mae (Presley) Lee, who gave her the most precious gift in life having taught her to read and write before she even turned three.

Oprah recalls her strict granny as her first role model. In one of the interviews, she said that her strength and way of thinking are all the results of her grandmother’s work and effort. Every Sunday Hattie Mae took little Oprah Winfrey to church where people nicknamed her “The Preacher”. When this little but at the same time such a mature girl was reciting Bible verses in her unique and inimitable manner, people in church stood in awe and many believed that the Holy Spirit touched her. Sensitive Oprah had never forgotten that early success and made her dream of becoming a missionary or a preacher. Later Winfrey’s fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Duncan, inspired her to become a teacher.

TV Host Career

During Winfrey’s first year at Tennessee University where she majored in speech and drama, Oprah Winfrey became Miss Black Tennessee and later Miss Black Nashville. In 1971, she took part in carnival procession in frames of “Miss Black America” beauty pageant. Shortly afterwards local TV station CBS offered her a job and Oprah Winfrey became the first black female assistant to Nashville’s evening news anchor. She was only nineteen.

At the second year of college, Oprah Winfrey became the news anchor on Nashville’s television. Not only was she the news anchor but also the first African-American woman to take such a position. It may sound not so wondrous to you right now when the President of the United States of America is black, however at that time of rampant racism it had seemed easier to get to the Political Bureau of USSR than to take the top position in the USA’s television industry.

Unfortunately, that job became Oprah’s abject failure. The news turned out to be not her cup of tea. Informing viewer about another hurricane overblown California Oprah Winfrey was swallowing tears. Her voice was trembling when she talked about the decrease of stock rates at the exchange. Oprah’s unique gift of sincere compassion and empathy, which ultimately made her successful and rich, were worst of all vices for a news anchor. In nine months, she was fired from the news. However, that did not put Oprah off and she confidently continued her career path.

Before she graduated from college in 1976, Winfrey was offered a position of a reporter in Baltimore and a co-anchor of 6 o’clock news on WJZ-TV. Oprah accepted the offer. She worked there for two years and then received an invitation to become a host of the WJZ’s local talk show People Are Talking. Surprisingly as it may seem, the audience gave a new fat black female show host a very cordial welcome. Oprah’s ratings surged up. Later Oprah recalled of her first show: “I came off the air and said to myself, ‘This is what I should be doing. It’s like breathing.'”

Popularity Growth

Oprah Winfrey biography is full episodes that led her to success. One of such episodes happened in 1986, when Oprah Winfrey became the television presenter of her own talk show, called The Oprah Winfrey Show, which later helped her skyrocket her career. On September 8, of the same year, TV syndication company King World Production included The Oprah Winfrey Show in its broadcasting covering 138 cities and towns. This was supposed to bring in the profit of 125 million dollars during 1987-1988 TV season. Such a drastic turn of events made Oprah the highest paid television presenter in the show business.

By the year of 1993, the show had spread its influence on unprecedented for the USA number of markets – 198 markets which made 99% of all existing in the country and 64 foreign markets including Japan, Norway, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand and The Netherlands.

During 27 years of her career, Oprah Winfrey has interviewed and hosted an infinite number of politicians: Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama. In 1993, she interviewed Michael Jackson who very rarely agreed to socialize with the press. Oprah interviewed the creator of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Microsoft Bill Gates, the developer and co-founder of Google Sergey Brin, CEO of Oracle Corporation Larry Ellison, businessman and investor Richard Branson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Michael Jordan and many others. It really would be easier to say who had not visited Oprah at her show.

True Success Is Diverse

Having become the highest paid figure in show business, Oprah Winfrey had no intentions of resting on laurels. In October 1988, she registered her own company HARPO Entertainment Group (the name “Harpo” is “Oprah” spelled backwards), which produces multimedia programs for television.

he newly fledged businesswoman began from buying a film studio of 9,000 square meters in Chicago for $20 million. There, at her own studio, she filmed all the episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Besides the show, which is the main product and brand of the company, HARPO Entertainment Group also produces documentaries and sell it to various TV channels.

In just five years of the company’s existence, according to the Forbes magazine of September 1993, Oprah’s personal income amounted to $98 million. For comparison, the income of the king of cinematography Steven Spielberg in the same years did not exceed $72 million. Oprah became the first African-American woman to own her personal production company in the field of entertainment. She also became the third woman in the world after Mary Pickford and Lucille Ball who owned their personal studios and ran personal shows.

As the owner of HARPO Entertainment Group Oprah Winfrey recognizes and trusts her business to only one person – her longtime lawyer and partner Jeffrey D. Jacobs who is the President and Chief Operating Officer of HARPO Entertainment Group. Even so, as Mr. Jacobs considers that Oprah is the only one who really runs her show and her money, she ultimately takes any important decision personally. Jacobs states that Winfrey still single-handedly signs each check and light-heartedly does any routine task of the lowest-positioned clerk of her corporation.

In 2000, Winfrey created the O, The Oprah Magazine that became one of the most successful titles in the history of the periodical press with its print run exceeding 2 million copies. In addition, she opened an Eccentric restaurant in Chicago, bought a cable channel, and invested in real estate.

Oprah Winfrey is the lucky owner of an estate on the ocean coast in Santa Barbara worth $50 million, a ranch in Colorado purchased for $4.3 million, a Global Express XRS jet with the budgeted annual operating costs of $1.4 million, four residences and a mansion in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as a farm in Indiana.

In 2006, Winfrey signed a $55 million dollar contract with XM Satellite Radio. Moreover, Oprah Winfrey is the owner of Oprah.com website with the monthly audience reach of 2.8 million people according to SimilarWeb as of March 29, 2015.

#AmericasRikTakers

Carlos C. Johnson III
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