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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 8:58 AM
Updated: Jan 10, 2018 8:58 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.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1462456

Reported Deaths: 20308
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2005922494
Lake992001456
Allen903391005
Hamilton70705539
St. Joseph63078746
Elkhart48098622
Vanderburgh46217523
Tippecanoe42115330
Johnson37119516
Hendricks35078455
Porter33900460
Madison28036530
Clark25186321
Vigo24768341
LaPorte22894307
Monroe22201243
Howard21344372
Delaware20937363
Hancock18289217
Kosciusko17513199
Bartholomew17399212
Warrick16060212
Wayne15757296
Floyd15399252
Grant14898293
Morgan13934230
Boone13172136
Noble11421140
Dearborn11355112
Henry11312201
Shelby11231150
Marshall11041166
Dubois10782152
Jackson10174104
DeKalb9944128
Cass9942142
Lawrence9914219
Huntington9823139
Gibson9131125
Montgomery9005140
Knox8762124
Harrison8718111
Whitley844771
Steuben8340102
Jasper8069113
Putnam795197
Clinton792994
Miami7914133
Wabash7598138
Jefferson7551124
Ripley6993111
Adams6508101
Scott629086
Daviess6266127
White602379
Greene5913111
Clay587173
Wells5814120
Decatur5754118
Jennings572276
Fayette5657121
Posey529146
LaGrange512996
Randolph4925128
Washington482067
Owen480398
Fountain463579
Spencer438156
Starke434086
Sullivan432164
Fulton426790
Orange412682
Jay403964
Rush395736
Carroll371349
Franklin369850
Perry362155
Vermillion345062
Pike308945
Tipton307974
Parke305038
Pulaski266973
Blackford266755
Newton228359
Brown222654
Benton213321
Crawford211231
Switzerland189414
Martin181921
Warren169520
Union163619
Ohio119516
Unassigned0742

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2403645

Reported Deaths: 30922
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2596932036
Cuyahoga2572672998
Hamilton1666711699
Montgomery1103831586
Summit1066861382
Lucas895171149
Butler78647924
Stark747301383
Lorain62885783
Warren49934468
Mahoning49735909
Lake46850586
Clermont43541428
Delaware38876210
Trumbull38576748
Medina37611416
Licking36901401
Fairfield33848331
Greene32124416
Portage31381356
Clark30277440
Richland28251420
Wood27660289
Allen24372392
Miami22806389
Muskingum22298244
Columbiana22095399
Wayne21275354
Tuscarawas18847423
Erie18041221
Ashtabula17932338
Marion17503231
Scioto16553203
Ross16163249
Pickaway15536173
Hancock15251227
Geauga15244221
Lawrence13847186
Huron13399182
Union1329683
Belmont13255247
Jefferson12864257
Sandusky12770197
Athens11949106
Knox11511195
Seneca11454200
Ashland10795174
Darke10673196
Washington10564168
Auglaize10152141
Crawford9854175
Shelby9699155
Brown9400140
Fulton9235148
Guernsey9109115
Defiance9057134
Highland9035143
Logan8955141
Clinton8719121
Mercer8640111
Madison8568104
Preble8002160
Williams7848135
Putnam7731135
Ottawa7629120
Champaign7556112
Jackson7383114
Perry714598
Coshocton7043136
Morrow694580
Fayette662287
Hardin6219125
Pike617086
Gallia594989
Adams5779124
Van Wert5779120
Henry565592
Hocking5521103
Carroll4828100
Wyandot482289
Holmes4747161
Paulding401163
Meigs375071
Monroe299368
Noble279851
Harrison279461
Morgan276848
Vinton239845
Unassigned08
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