In 2011, when The Oprah Winfrey Show ended, she was able to focus on OWN. "I need to be there," she told attendees of a Chicago media conference in June of that year. "I need to be engaged and involved. I need to do the same thing I did on my show every day." By July she did just that, taking over as CEO and chief creative officer (former CEO Christina Norman had departed in May).
Being fully present is something she’s long cultivated, going back to when she would do interviews for The Oprah Winfrey Show. Sometimes the technique can be too effective, especially when she’s conducting emotional interviews. "I am listening as hard as they’re talking and taking on the energy of whatever is going on in that moment," she says. "I had to learn how to be present but not take it all in. Because at the end of the day I’d just be messed up."
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady, Michelle Obama, appear with Oprah Winfrey during a taping of her television show, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," at Harpo Studios in Chicago, April 27, 2011.
This newfound freedom didn’t happen by accident. Winfrey has structured OWN so it can run without her constant oversight, leaving plenty of time to pursue additional projects that she’s passionate about. To make that work, she has installed a pair of trusted longtime employees as copresidents: Erik Logan, who joined Harpo as an executive vice president in 2008, and Sheri Salata, who started as a marketer at Harpo in 1995 and rose to executive producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2006, which she oversaw until the end of its run. The trio refer to themselves as a "three-legged stool" that supports OWN’s organization of about 200 employees, with Logan mostly handling business and operations, Salata primarily steering creative, and Winfrey, of course, as the brand. "I try to surround myself with people who really know what they’re doing and give them the freedom to do it," Winfrey says.