In the last season ofOprah Winfrey’s 25-year-long television program, The Oprah Winfrey Show, the queen of media has been looking back with nostalgia on what she’s built—a global audience and a $2.7 billion net worth—and forward with excitement to what lays ahead. She transitions from network TV to cable in January to cut the ribbon on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which is arguably the pinnacle of her career. She didn’t get here by chance, of course. She led the way.
“She’s the ultimate self-made business leader,” says Scott Testa, a professor of business administration at Cabrini College in Philadelphia, Penn. “Her basic leadership style is unparalleled and incredibly effective.”
“You can’t build a business by yourself,” says Testa. “She really knows how to motivate people.” Oprah’s people strategy is simple. She invests in top talent, seeks out smart mentors, values her customer and consistently nourishes each relationship.
Like every great leader, Oprah has become the best by surrounding herself with the best. She carefully selects her top team to assure competence and compatibly, and then stands by them. Success stories like Rachael Ray and Dr. Phil remain under her management. She also seeks out mentors that she admires who will offer her guidance. Early in her career, attorney Jeff Jacobs advised crucial contract deals and helped her launch her company, Harpo, which has been the key to her wealth. Moreover, Oprah allies herself with other power players, from celebrities like Julia Roberts to politicians like the Obamas.
“She became a billionaire by spreading the wealth,” says Testa. Not only did she often spontaneously give to people in need who came on her show, she established several philanthropic efforts that bettered the world. Her motivations were at times questioned by the press, but giving back allowed her the credibility to continue growing her wealth. She launched the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, a school in South Africa and an audience-mobilizing effort, Oprah’s Angel Network.