Oprah Winfrey is an American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist and is best known for her multi-award-winning talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest-rated programme of its kind in history.

She was born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother and was later raised in an inner-city Milwaukee neighbourhood. She experienced considerable hardship during her childhood, saying she was raped at age nine and pregnant at 14, although her son died in infancy.

Sent to live with the man she calls her father, a barber in Tennessee, Winfrey landed a job in radio while still in high school and began co-anchoring the local evening news at the age of 19.

Her emotional ad-lib delivery eventually got her transferred to the daytime-talk-show arena, and after boosting a third-rated local Chicago talk show to first place, it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was expanded to a full hour, and broadcast nationally, beginning 8 September, 1986.

 Key achievements

  • Dubbed the “Queen of All Media”, she has been ranked the richest African-American of the 20th century and is currently North America’s only black billionaire.
  • In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama and an honorary doctorate degree from Harvard.
  • She turned a low-rated half-hour morning talk show, AM Chicago, to the highest ranking in Chicago within a matter of months.

Lessons for your store

  1. Persevere in the face of adversity – despite her childhood hardships and facing wide-criticism for unleashing a confession culture, Oprah now owns her own production show and is internationally syndicated.
  2. Put yourself in your work – Oprah’s work is clearly shaped by her experiences and character, which yielded enormous success.
  3. Don’t underestimate the influence of media – from 2006 to 2008, her support of Barack Obama, by one estimate, delivered over a million votes in the close 2008 Democratic primary race.