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Productivity / Professional development

Business lessons you can learn from Oprah

I have a confession to make. On days that I’m home for lunch, I often dine with Oprah Winfrey, and I learn valuable business lessons from her.

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Before you mock me, let me assure you that more often than not Oprah is great company. In fact, I take so much inspiration from her that I’ve come to think of her as a key member of my business support team.

Even if you’ve never watched her world-famous talk show (Channel Ten at 1 o’clock if you’d like to join us for lunch), the chances you’ve at least heard of Oprah are pretty high, considering she is one of the most successful business people in the world.

In 2009, Forbes magazine rated Oprah as one of the ten richest women in America. And when About.com recently asked readers to nominate the entrepreneur they most admire, Oprah came out on top, receiving nearly twice as many votes as Bill Gates and four times as many as Richard Branson.

Here are just two examples of how far-reaching Oprah’s influence is:

"Oprah very obviously absolutely loves what she does. She hugs her guests, squeals with delight and even sheds a tear."

  • After it was proclaimed on an episode of Oprah that 85% of American women were wearing the wrong bra, the Nordstrom chain of department stores experienced a massive 189% increase in bra sales. Overall, bra sales increased by $700 million on the previous year.
  • Some people – including someone I met up with just the other day – have even gone so far as to claim that Oprah’s public endorsement was responsible for Barak Obama winning the election and becoming the first black president of the USA.

Admittedly, there might be better ways of spending my lunch break, but if I turned off the TV I’d miss out on some very valuable business lessons from one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Want more articles like this? Check out the professional development section.

By watching her in action, I’ve identified some of the personal attributes that I believe help make Oprah such a brilliant businesswoman, and now try to incorporate them into my own business:

  • Love: Oprah very obviously absolutely loves what she does. She hugs her guests, squeals with delight and even sheds a tear.
  • Empathy: She’s genuinely interested in people, is empathetic, and as a result understands what makes people tick. She knows what her customers (viewers) want and delivers it to them day after day.
  • Branding: You may have heard the advice that to be really successful and grow your business, you should work on the business, not in the business. Your business should be able to run without you. This advice has obviously fallen on deaf ears with Oprah, because without her, there is no business. Even her magazine O (which reputedly brought in $140 million last year), has her on the front cover of each and every issue.
  • Genuineness: In a recent show, Oprah played a 30-year old clip of herself when she was a reporter right at the start of her career. I was amazed to see how little she’s changed. The way she speaks, her mannerisms and the way she holds herself are all still exactly the same. It’s just the way she is. No airs and graces. Just Oprah.

Best dash – it’s time for me to turn the telly on and get my daily fix. Are you an Oprah junkie too? What business lessons has the queen of the entertainment taught you and your business?

Yesim Nicholson

is a small business Marketing mentor.

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