Oprah Winfrey: The reason why she is a billionaire

There is a reason why Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire today, instead of merely a millionaire TV personality. It has to do with her skills of being an empath. 

In 1984, Oprah was offered a promotion. And she was over the moon for it! 

A year before – in 1983 – TV executive Dennis Swanson had persuaded Oprah to move from Baltimore to Chicago for the local ABC affiliate channel. He got her to host a 30 minute morning show – AM Chicago. Swanson ran Oprah’s show opposite the legendary Phil Donahue’s chat show in the morning because he wanted someone exactly opposite of Donahue. And the gambit worked. Within a month, Oprah was beating Phil Donahue in ratings in Chicago! 

And based on her performance, in 1984, Oprah’s agent got her a guaranteed increase in salary of $30,000 per year for the next 4 years! Her pay would go from an already high of $230,000 per year to $390,000 per year after 4 years! Oprah was over the moon!

That was until she got a weird feeling. In three different conversations, TV executives praised how amazing Oprah’s agent was. Oprah’s spidey sense started tingling. Why would they be praising her agent?

Oprah heeds her intuition

Oprah sent her new contract to her friend Roger Ebert for his opinion. And he confirmed that the contract seemed to be underpaying her! Somehow Oprah connected with Bill Cosby who reaffirmed that her empathic spidey sense was not off radar. “When they see my agent coming down the hallway, TV executives get scared!”

Oprah took the bold step to fire her agent who had just gotten her a huge pay raise! And she ended up hiring a tough entertainment lawyer: Jeffrey Jacobs.

It was Jacobs who renegotiated Oprah’s contract with the TV network. Instead of focusing on pay raises, he focused on how Oprah could own her own work. TV networks could not syndicate their own shows at the time. So the first thing Jacobs did is negotiate to get syndication rights for the show from ABC – in return for giving their affiliates the right of first refusal in every market they entered.

Then Jacobs persuaded ABC to rename the show that Oprah hosted from AM Chicago to The Oprah Winfrey Show. How did he do that? By agreeing to pay for all production costs!

And then Jacobs got King World Productions (the distributors of shows like Jeopardy) to distribute The Oprah Winfrey Show all over America! Oprah started making a few million dollars a year instead of a few hundred thousand!

By owning the rights to her own work, Oprah ended up becoming a billionaire! And it all started because she trusted her intuition – that something was wrong when everything looked rosy!

So how can you hone your spidey sense like Oprah?

You know there are people whose job it is to look at a new born chicken and tell if it is a male or a female? It’s a fairly important job because male chickens are reared differently than female chickens. These people do a phenomenal job in distinguishing the sex of the chickens. But when asked to explain how they determine the sex, they can’t explain.

Intuition is often like that. You don’t know how you know. So how can you develop your spidey sense? Can you even become an empath like Oprah?

Empaths are just people with heightened sensitivities. And while it’s difficult to become an empath, you can learn from them and become better at reading between the lines. How?

  1. Watch out for unusual behavior. Whenever something is new or out of ordinary, question it deeply. Ask “I wonder why…”
  2. Beware of flattery. Learn to differentiate between flattery and praise. Flattery is vague and pure adulation (“Your agent is awesome!”). Praise is specific and actionable (“Isn’t it wonderful how your agent presented your numbers so well to increase your pay?)
  3. Wear another character’s point of view. Anna Quinn of Blue Mountain College wanted to teach her students how to improve their English comprehension. She wanted them to become better at reading between the lines and discover the hidden meanings from literature. And so she would give them an exercise: take on the role of a character in the book. And write a letter that he would write – explaining his motives.

Action Summary:

  • Ownership creates wealth.
  • Trust your intuition. Pay attention when something seems off or unusual.
  • Hone your instincts of reading between the lines. Beware of flattery. And try to put yourself in the other persons shoes.