From the great networkers of antiquity, we turn to one of the most influential networkers of our time, the legendary Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah’s life began very modestly in Kosciusko, Mississippi, where she was born to unwed teenagers. Born Orpah Gail Winfrey after a figure in the Book of Ruth, the spelling of her name was changed to clarify the difficult pronunciation.
Bounced back and forth between her mother and grandmother, Oprah was eventually sent to weather her teenage years with her father, Vernon, in Nashville, Tennessee. Vernon was a strict father and made Oprah’s education a priority. By the time she graduated, she was an honors student and had won an oratory contest securing her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University.
While at University, Oprah took her first steps toward becoming Oprah.
She began working at a local radio station and then as a news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV.
In 1978, she was recruited to join Richard Sher at Baltimore’s WJZ-TV co-hosting the show “People Are Talking.”
In 1983, Oprah relocated to Chicago to host the morning talk show “AM Chicago”. Within months, her ratings had surpassed Donahue’s. The name of the show was then changed to the now infamous “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
On September 8, 1986, The Oprah Winfrey Show began national syndication. The show has been wildly successful and has served to promote and propel, in some cases, the success of others.
Thousands of people have been guests on the show, including more than 850 celebrities. Oprah has had the opportunity to interview three presidents, four first ladies, and a host of royalty. Oprah sat down with both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to ask the personal questions the country was dying to know.
Starting in 1985, Oprah expanded her experience to include acting in film. That year she worked with acclaimed director Steven Spielberg in the movie adaptation of “The Color Purple.” Oprah was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance. In 2005, Oprah produced the theater version, stopping by David Letterman’s to promote the opening.
Oprah also used her influential powers to promote her friend, Dr. Phil. She met Dr. Phil when she hired his company, Courtroom Science, to analyze a jury. Oprah was so impressed that she asked Dr. Phil on the show several times before helping him launch his own talk show.
Oprah was able to do the same for Food Network favorite Rachael Ray. Oprah developed and now produces “Rachael Ray” – a one-hour talk show about food and fun.
In addition to her success as a talk show host, writer, producer, and actor, Oprah is a tremendous philanthropist. Business Week even put her on their top 50 most generous people list.
Not only has she given thousands of gifts away to guests and audience members, but she also started the Angels Network where people donate money, and it is given to charities. Oprah herself pays for the administration cost. In 2004, Oprah and Tom Cruise paired up to host the Nobel Peace Prize Concert.
Oprah’s good friend John Travolta summed it up perfectly in his toast to Oprah on her 50th birthday celebration:
“To the most wonderful person in the world—Oprah Winfrey. Our friend. It’s not just because you went out of your way to make sure that 50,000 underprivileged children in South Africa had their first Christmas gift, or that you want to put schools throughout that country, but also because you inject the spirit of life into our society. You care, you’re intelligent, you’re inspirational, and you do it all without judging. You treat everyone as equally important. This makes you a great American hero. You represent the best of our country and what’s possible in our country. But more importantly, you are a citizen of the world, and you are a hero to mankind. So, we are better for knowing you, Oprah. We are. To boot, you are beautiful, you are sexy, you are talented, and we love you so much, we can’t take it. Here’s to Oprah!”
Of course, Oprah has many more friends in her network than could possibly be examined in this post, but here are a list of some of the movers and shakers Oprah has in her extended network.
Sarah Jessica Parker, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Aniston, Billy Crystal, Hilary Clinton, Tom Hanks, Dr. Maya Angelou.