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.

Cases: 161516

Reported Deaths: 3916
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10863104
Hinds10705207
Harrison7624114
Jackson6774131
Rankin6303114
Lee557798
Madison5311112
Forrest405587
Jones388589
Lauderdale3754149
Lafayette347358
Washington3421108
Lamar310350
Lowndes265168
Oktibbeha262763
Bolivar254686
Panola243754
Neshoba2333124
Marshall229451
Leflore216492
Monroe216278
Pontotoc213631
Lincoln203267
Sunflower198156
Warren189559
Tate187251
Union179626
Copiah176141
Pike170860
Pearl River168170
Itawamba166637
Scott166030
Yazoo164441
Alcorn161529
Coahoma160044
Prentiss159034
Simpson156954
Grenada149545
Adams148852
Leake146244
George138326
Covington137642
Holmes136861
Tippah135230
Winston134326
Hancock132842
Wayne127424
Attala126836
Marion126548
Tishomingo116444
Newton114929
Chickasaw112632
Tallahatchie101227
Clay98527
Clarke96954
Jasper90023
Stone85115
Calhoun82413
Montgomery80726
Walthall80430
Carroll78115
Lawrence76814
Smith76516
Yalobusha75728
Noxubee74817
Perry70127
Greene66023
Tunica64019
Amite61815
Jefferson Davis60818
Claiborne59716
Humphreys56119
Benton51018
Quitman5107
Kemper50019
Webster49514
Wilkinson42522
Jefferson39012
Franklin3866
Choctaw3757
Sharkey33517
Issaquena1254
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 264199

Reported Deaths: 3831
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson35310515
Mobile20626372
Madison14521153
Tuscaloosa13897173
Montgomery12844246
Shelby1127878
Baldwin9501138
Lee807167
Morgan740555
Etowah704870
Marshall695358
Calhoun6939126
Houston559140
DeKalb521843
Cullman490650
St. Clair466557
Limestone462446
Lauderdale452257
Elmore440070
Walker3914112
Talladega386157
Jackson373523
Colbert347948
Blount323146
Autauga294542
Franklin265534
Coffee260023
Dale247355
Dallas236832
Chilton235445
Covington234834
Russell23433
Escambia208832
Tallapoosa192692
Chambers189154
Clarke165422
Pike165215
Marion150236
Winston146325
Lawrence139936
Pickens129720
Geneva12929
Marengo127824
Bibb127038
Barbour121729
Butler121142
Cherokee108224
Randolph108022
Fayette102216
Hale102132
Clay95527
Washington94222
Henry9097
Monroe85311
Lowndes82930
Cleburne80914
Macon77522
Crenshaw73830
Lamar7348
Conecuh73215
Bullock71120
Perry7037
Wilcox65918
Sumter60122
Greene45818
Choctaw43620
Coosa3854
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