How Oprah built Oprah Inc.

Oprah built her multibillion-dollar career on her everywoman persona. But the reality is she's one of the savviest bu...

Posted: Jan 10, 2018 7:58 AM
Updated: Jan 10, 2018 7:58 AM

Oprah built her multibillion-dollar career on her everywoman persona. But the reality is she's one of the savviest business executives in recent memory.

She got her start anchoring local news in Baltimore and Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1970s and early 1980s.

In 1984, Winfrey began hosting a local talk show in Chicago and led it to the top of the ratings. Two years later, she relaunched her show for a national audience and snagged an Academy Award nomination for her role in the period drama "The Color Purple."

Widespread fame soon followed.

"I was beyond excited," Winfrey recalled while announcing the end of the program more than two decades later. "And as you all might expect, a little nervous."

Related: Oprah Winfrey is 'very intrigued' by the idea of running, says Gayle King

Winfrey's focus on "everyday people" struck a chord, and helped attract massive audiences that now hang on the media mogul's every word (and product).

National syndication also brought in big money. Oprah's show brought in $115 million in sales during its first two seasons, according to a 1995 Forbes profile of Winfrey.

It's unclear how much she has ultimately pulled in from her runaway hit talk show, but it's a lot: She owns Harpo, the show's production studio, so she reaped the rewards of her show's success.

The late movie critic Roger Ebert, a friend of Winfrey's who said he persuaded her to enter syndication, put it this way: She made the decision to syndicate her show immediately after he jotted down her potential earnings on a napkin.

"With simple, high-school-level math, you can now figure out how much Oprah Winfrey makes in a year for her show," he wrote in a 2005 column.

"Step 1: Estimate how much I made in a year, 20 years ago. Step 2: Carry out the other multiplications described above. Step 3: Times 20."

Winfrey continued to expand her influence -- and wealth -- over the decades.

She was among the first investors in the Oxygen network, a cable channel geared toward women. NBC Universal bought Oxygen for more than $900 million in 2007, according to The New York Times.

In 2000, she founded O Magazine, which now boasts a circulation of 2.4 million, most of which are paid subscriptions, according to recent figures from the publication.

She was instrumental in the launches of two nationally syndicated talk shows, "Dr. Phil" and "Dr. Oz." They're hosted by Phil McGraw and Mehmet Oz, who were frequent guests on her talk show. Her studio created both of their programs.

By 2003, Winfrey had cemented her legacy as an elite business executive. That February, she became the first black woman on Forbes magazine's "World's Richest People" list. Her listed net worth: $1 billion.

Her imprint also expanded in less tangible ways. She started an "Oprah's Book Club" segment on her television show that became massively influential for the publishing industry.

Time magazine in 2008 called the club a "ruthlessly influential marketing vehicle, with the power to fundamentally alter bestseller lists."

She hasn't slowed down. Winfrey made one of her most ambitious plays in 2011, when she launched her television project, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Although OWN has not been a major success, its ratings have improved in recent years. And it has been valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Winfrey's production company sold a 24.5% stake to Discovery Communications for $70 million last December.

Winfrey has also branched out into other products. She partnered with Kraft Heinz on a line of refrigerated soups and side dishes that rolled out to grocery stores nationwide last September.

Related: Oprah's Golden Globes speech sends Weight Watchers stock soaring

And then there's Weight Watchers. A little over two years ago, Winfrey bought 10% of the struggling company for $43 million.

Since then, enrollment has boomed by nearly 1 million members. Her stake in the company was worth more than $344 million last November.

Oh, and Weight Watchers is still on the rise. Shares spiked 13% on Monday after her much-buzzed-about Golden Globes speech.

Winfrey's total wealth is now estimated to be about $2.8 billion, according to Forbes. That makes her one of the richest celebrities in the country.

--CNNMoney's Brian Stelter contributed to this story.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 36680

Reported Deaths: 1250
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds299254
DeSoto195920
Madison148439
Jones122449
Harrison117716
Rankin112619
Neshoba104677
Forrest103843
Lauderdale96681
Scott82415
Jackson79819
Washington73713
Copiah67016
Leake63420
Lee62822
Oktibbeha61928
Grenada6049
Warren60021
Holmes59541
Lamar5837
Wayne56519
Yazoo5607
Lowndes54817
Leflore53456
Lincoln53335
Lafayette5064
Pike50520
Sunflower5048
Monroe46135
Panola4546
Covington4465
Simpson4433
Bolivar41218
Tate39213
Attala38624
Newton37610
Adams35820
Pontotoc3556
Marion34512
Claiborne30811
Pearl River30332
Winston30111
Chickasaw30019
Marshall2923
Jasper2816
Noxubee2799
Walthall2708
Clay26111
Union25412
Smith25212
Coahoma2306
Clarke22325
Lawrence2132
Yalobusha2089
Tallahatchie1954
Kemper18414
Carroll18211
Montgomery1793
Calhoun1705
Humphreys16910
Hancock14813
Itawamba1478
Tippah14611
Webster13411
Jefferson1283
Prentiss1274
Jefferson Davis1254
Tunica1253
George1233
Greene11610
Amite1123
Alcorn1072
Tishomingo1061
Quitman1011
Wilkinson989
Perry914
Stone772
Choctaw764
Franklin542
Sharkey480
Benton470
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 54768

Reported Deaths: 1096
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6746170
Mobile4904140
Montgomery4547112
Tuscaloosa269053
Madison22689
Marshall198011
Shelby169125
Lee159637
Morgan13385
Baldwin127711
Walker107532
Elmore106721
Etowah101114
Dallas10029
DeKalb9677
Franklin93816
Autauga69815
Russell6860
Unassigned67928
Chambers67730
Butler65229
Limestone6393
Tallapoosa63069
Cullman6156
Houston6077
Lauderdale5776
St. Clair5443
Calhoun5155
Colbert5096
Escambia4888
Lowndes48422
Pike4795
Jackson4352
Coffee4284
Covington41612
Talladega4017
Barbour3992
Dale3951
Bullock37810
Hale35423
Marengo35411
Chilton3312
Blount3201
Clarke3176
Wilcox3038
Winston2995
Sumter29213
Marion29014
Pickens2746
Randolph2639
Monroe2603
Perry2502
Conecuh2318
Bibb2241
Macon2199
Choctaw21712
Greene1989
Henry1553
Washington1488
Lawrence1360
Crenshaw1323
Cherokee1247
Geneva980
Lamar891
Clay852
Fayette851
Coosa661
Cleburne451
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