Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.

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Business genius

Q: Why has Oprah Winfrey been so successful as a TV talk-show host? Does it make sense for her to end her syndicated talk show in 2011 when she's still dominating the daytime ratings? Can you imagine anyone replicating the following she's been able to build?

Oprah is an unparalleled example of someone who was able to parlay celebrity into great success. A true business genius, not just a TV personality, she created a brand that has been consistent across many media platforms -- television, print, film, online.

Her carefully-crafted style appears to be warmly open and engaging in a way that attracts "just plain folks" to view her show, read the books she recommends, follow her advice. She connects with her viewers by appearing to share their issues as a deliberate strategy. Oprah has that elusive quality called "charisma" -- and she leverages that appeal shrewdly to advance her business interests.

Success and celebrity are not the same thing, but successful celebrities such as Oprah often unintentionally cause less-talented people to think they can replicate success by becoming famous. Hence, we see the phenomenon of people crashing White House dinners with television cameras in tow, or the "balloon boy" parents crafting an elaborate hoax in the hopes of getting on a "reality" television show.

Reality television has further encouraged some people to think that fame will make them successful. People such as the Salahis, who crashed the White House State Dinner last week, should study the case of Richard Hatch, the first winner of the Survivor television show. Hatch wound up in prison for tax evasion for failing to report the show's prize as income, and his legal woes continued to mount after his brief fling with celebrity. Success rarely comes to people who only want to be famous.

Oprah's celebrity belies the very hard work that she has put into making herself successful. She did not reach the pinnacle by accident. Oprah has carefully employed the sound business principles of controlling her brand, focusing on her customers' needs and desires, and consistently delivering a high-quality product. Behind her engaging exterior is a hard-nosed businesswoman who sticks to those principles in her many product lines.

Oprah's extraordinary business judgment clearly played a huge role in her decision to end her successful television program at the top of her game. She's not going to disappear from public view, she is simply going to retool her brand to generate new forms of success in creative new product lines, including her own cable channel. That hardly sounds like relinquishing her title!

Surely, many other talk-show hosts dream of replicating Oprah's success, and perhaps another equally powerful host will emerge at some point. Aspirants to her title, however, should study the very hard work and smart business decisions that made the Oprah brand not merely famous, but truly successful.

By Patricia McGuire  |  November 30, 2009; 12:45 PM ET  | Category:  Oprah's success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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