How has Oprah – at 62 years old – jumped from the 5th to 2nd richest self-made women in Forbes’ 2016 US Rich List out this week? By turning her problem into her profit.
Throughout Oprah’s rise to fame, she has had a life-time battle, played out publicly. Oprah’s says her fight with her weight stemmed from abuse and abusive relationships:
“I was raped at 9 years old by a cousin, then again by another family member, and another family member,” Oprah has said. As a result of the abuse she was pregnant with a baby son at 14, who she lost.
“I went back to school, and nobody knew. Because had anybody known at that time, I wouldn’t have been able to be head of student council, I wouldn’t have been chosen as one of the two teenagers in the state of Tennessee to go to the White House conference on youth. None of those things would have happened, and the entire trajectory of my life would have been different.”
Oprah then got into a series of abusive relationships, saying “The reason I gained so much weight in the first place and the reason I had such a sorry history of abusive relationships with men was I just needed approval so much. I needed everyone to like me, because I didn’t like myself much.”
“So I’d end up with these cruel self-absorbed guys who’d tell me how selfish I was, and I’d say ‘Oh thank you, you’re so right’ and be grateful to them. Because I had no sense that I deserved anything else. Which is also why I gained so much weight later on. It was the perfect way of cushioning myself against the world’s disapproval.”
Calling her weight issues “the brown elephant in the room”, she has grown her TV career while yo-yoing in size. In 1988 she lost 67 pounds to get into a pair os size 10 Calvin Klein jeans, saying “I had literally starved myself for four months – not a morsel of food.” Just two days later, she began putting the pounds back on and could no longer fit in the jeans.
Ten years later she had put on so much weight she was skipping photo shoots saying “I felt like a cow”. She published her weight gain numbers in her magazine, ‘O’: “Yes, you’re adding correctly; that means the dreaded 2-0-0,” she wrote. “I was so frustrated I started eating whatever I wanted – and that’s never good.”
By 1992 she was up to 237 pounds, and has bounced 60 pounds up and down in the twenty years since.
Then, 7 months ago, Oprah decided to put her money where her mouth was, and invested $43 million for a 10% stake in Weight Watchers, to be a part owner, board member and spokesperson.
When you’ve built a personal brand like Oprah, you can earn through book sales and advertising, or you can earn through the value of the businesses you invest in. The second way leads to far bigger results.
In January she tweeted “Eat bread, Lose weight. Whaaattt?” with a video of her losing 26 pounds since she began Weight Watcher’s program 3 months earlier. As a result, Weight Watchers’ stock price jumped from $11.35 to $15.62 and Oprah made a $12.5 million gain in a day.
Her “Oprah Effect” has brought over 1 billion new impressions to the company, and the company has doubled in value, to $1 billion, since she invested.
That means, in the 27 weeks since she invested, she has lost one pound in weight, and she has gained $2 million in profit, week after week.
In the April 2016 issue of O, Oprah put herself on the front cover together with her Weight Watcher’s group, and featured the weight loss progress they have made. It’s the first time the magazine has featured readers on the cover. Oprah said: “It was my idea to share the cover with other women who are on the same journey that I am.”
“My own struggles with the scale are well known. I’ve never believed in hiding them. Gone, for me, are the days of wanting to be thin to fit into anything other than my best body and best life. What I do believe in: strength in numbers.”
What can you do to turn your problems to profit?
Who can you bring along for the journey?
And how can you make sure they’re with you for the purpose, not just the profit?
“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” ~ Oprah Winfrey