Available May 2012
What is Predator about?
“We are all, no doubt, born for a wise purpose. There is as much diversity in our brains as in our countenances. Some are born natural mechanics, whilst some have a great aversion to machinery. Let a dozen boys of ten years get together, and you will soon observe two or three are “whittling” out some ingenious device; working out some ingenious device; working with locks or complicated machinery. When they were but five years old, their father could find no toy to please them like a puzzle. They are natural mechanics; but the other eight or nine boys have different aptitudes. I belong to the latter class; I never had the slightest love for mechanism; on the contrary, I have a sort of abhorrence for complicated machinery. I never had ingenuity enough to whittle a cider tap so it would not leak. I never could make a pen that I could write with, or understand the principal of a steam engine. If a man was to take such a boy as I was, and attempt to make a watchmaker of him, the boy might, after an apprenticeship of five or seven years, be able to take apart and put together a watch: but all through life he would be working up hill and seizing every excuse for leaving work and idling away his time. Watch making is repulsive to him.
Using anecdotes from the lives and careers of the world's greatest entrepreneurs in history, and the writings of some of the world's most notable scientist, Predator seeks to demonstrate how and why one’s own peculiar individuality can lead to amazing success. It’s simply a matter of environment and timing.
Oprah’s story appears to be an apt case study:
Key Factors; Perculiarity of the 'species', Environment, and Change.
The cues in Oprah’s instance are, 1. Takative Nature and Turbulent Life (Perculiarity) 2. Co-Axel Cable Technolgy explosion of national TV (Environment) 3. Civil Rights Struggle (Change).
It’s also important to look out for Random Events such as: Oprah’s mother ’selecting’ Vernon Winfrey as the best candidate for her illegitimate baby. Having Hattie Mae Bullock as a grandmother and Gene Abrams as a teacher. Quincy Jones spotting Oprah whilst looking for something interesting to watch whilst in his hotel suite. I could go on. These fortuitous events proved critical in the rise of the ‘apex predator’ called Oprah. And no different than the precepts that led to the rise of Dinosaurs during the Triassic or Mammals during the Paleocene and so on.
The public is being misled as to what really accounted for the success of great entrepreneurs and great individuals of historical note.
“I knew there was a way out I knew there was another kind of life because I had read about it”
I knew there were other places, and there was another way of being.” During 1861 to 1865, America fought a civil war. Eleven, mainly Southern, states seceded from the ‘United States,’ forming the Confederate States of America (the CSA). In 1865 veterans of the defeated Confederate Army formed the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), and for two hundred years the Klan committed thousands of murderous atrocities against the former slaves and their descendants in the Deep South. The legacy of slavery would severely dampen the fortunes of the black populous socially, economically and politically.
The US Government passed The Civil Rights Act of 1871, designed to protect African Americans from the abuse dished out by the Klan. That year Sanford Elias Winfrey was born in Mississippi (a KKK strong hold), the son of former slaves. He was the great-grandfather of a child destined to become the most influential woman in America. She would also be critically instrumental in the election of America’s first black President. Her name was of course Oprah Winfrey.
The Power of Television
To begin with, Sanford’s great-granddaughter would become a spiritual icon, to ‘white’ America, often referred to as the “The Church of O”. Whoever she sneezed on would catch a cold. During an interview in 1996 about mad cow disease Oprah Winfrey stuttered the now infamous words: “It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger!” The price of beef immediately plummeted.
In 2003 American cable television network, VH1 ranked Oprah 3rd in a vote on the greatest pop culture icon of all time. Only Superman and Elvis were able to beat her! Life magazine called her “America’s most powerful woman” and in 2005 she was voted 9th in a poll on The Greatest Americans of all time.
In 2003, Forbes International listed Oprah as the first black billionaire and the first black female billionaire in global history. Since then she has more than doubled her wealth, making her America’s richest self-made female entrepreneur, hands-down. A 2007 Gallup poll concluded that 73% of American adults held a sympathetic opinion of Oprah. She has ranked time and again among the World’s most admired women. Oprah Gail Winfrey was born in Mississippi, in a town called Kosciusko, in 1954: the same year technology allowed television broadcasting to go national in the USA .
When Oprah was born her mother Vernita Lee was still only a teenager living in poverty in rural Mississippi, a state with a reputation for oppression against its black citizens. There was a mix-up with Oprah’s name. The world’s most influential woman’s name was supposed to be Orpah after the biblical character (sister in law of Ruth), but ‘Oprah’ had a ring to it and stuck.
Vernon Winfrey and Vernita Lee never married and split-up when Oprah – their only child together – was a toddler. Vernon found out he was the father when he received a news clipping announcing the birth in the post, together with a request for baby clothes. Just after the birth of her child Vernita departed from Milwaukee leaving baby Oprah with her mother, Hattie Mae Bullock. Hattie and her family lived on a scrap of land a few acres in size. All members of the family had to pull their weight as soon as they were old enough.
There were chickens and pigs to raise and they worked hard producing their own food. No plumbing meant a constant flow of water required to be brought into the house. Bare foot little Oprah would take on this responsibility. Under the tutelage of her grandmother Oprah gained her love of reading. Hattie’s little grandchild began her speaking career when she started reciting the Bible to the congregation at the United Mississippi Baptist Church on Sundays aged three.
Oprah would play with the animals on the land “playacting” in front them as they formed her audience. She would interview her doll, formed from corncob, which she would perch on a fence. Performances in front of family and grandma’s friends only served to reinforce the little girl’s sense of confidence in front of the public. Oprah would later highlight “[People] would say to my grandmother, “Hattie Mae, this child sure can talk. She is the talkingest child.” At the age of three she was performing memorised sermons in church. At five the ‘talkative’ child wrote a note to her kindergarten teacher on her first day. Her teacher instantly moved her to first grade after reading the note which Oprah had written insisting she really should be in the grade above because she could already write and knew long words like elephant and hippopotamus. Shortly after the first move up she was moved up again.
Ready For the World at Six
Though Grandma’s tough regime was needlessly punishing, Oprah declared: “I am what I am because of my grandmother; my strength, my sense of reasoning, everything. All that was set by the time I was six.” When Grandma became ill Oprah’s upbringing was again disrupted. She was sent off to a boarding-house to live with her mother and aunt (her mother’s half-sister, Patricia) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The neighbourhood was a ghetto and the environment dangerous. Oprah would often spend time collecting, naming and feeding the cockroaches!
Often reliant on welfare, Vernita would frequently leave Oprah and her young brothers and sisters alone with an elder cousin to mind them whilst she worked. The first time Oprah was raped was on one such occasion. The perpetrator was her 19 year-old cousin. Nine year-old Oprah was given some ice cream in exchange for her silence. Sometime later she would suffer the same indignity at the hands of another family member. This time it was an uncle. And this time it would not be once or twice, but on-going. Despite the abuse, the intelligent young girl thrived in school and at the age of 13 was awarded an educational scholarship. Alas family disruption was never too far away. Oprah became unruly and promiscuous. It was enough to push her mother to exasperation.
One day Oprah, who wore butterfly-rimmed glasses, asked her Mum if she could get some specs that were less embarrassing. The answer was no. Inventive Oprah cooked up a scheme. She broke the glasses, turned the place upside down and then called the police! When they arrived she lay there faking amnesia telling them she remembered nothing other than her glasses falling off after being hit in the head by an intruder.
Narrowly escaping a detention centre, the rebellious 14 year-old was despatched off to her father in Nashville, Tennessee. Vernon, a former soldier, had a very different attitude to education and discipline to Vernita. Oprah arrived pregnant at her father’s home. The baby boy tragically died at only a couple of weeks old. Her father ensured that his daughter’s life was reconstructed. His clever little girl’s education became his priority.
Vernon lived with his wife Zelma. The couple were unable to have children so Oprah was very much welcomed. For the first time in her life Oprah had her very own room. Then, not long after entering Wharton Elementary School, she was moved up a grade. Her growing love of books was augmented by frequent visits to the library accompanied by Vernon and Zelma. With curfews and other new rules like five new words per day having to be learned (or no dinner), a book a week to be read and reported on, her grades kept at an ‘A’ minimum, she excelled. She was even paid to speak on one occasion, earning herself $500.
Oprah’s topsy-turvy life continued after visiting her mother in Milwaukee. She decided to stay with Mum, who had since had another child in the overcrowded apartment. However, being labelled “gifted” was enough to help her deal with all the difficulties she faced living with her mother in Milwaukee.
Oprah came to the attention of teacher Gene Abrams whilst attending Lincoln Middle School in Milwaukee. Abrams organised the precocious young student’s transfer from Lincoln to Nicolet High School (an all white affair) in Glendale, Wisconsin. Only 14 years earlier the US Supreme Court had adjudged segregated schools unequal and therefore unconstitutional. Oprah was Nicolet’s only black student, making her an immediate celebrity.
America was in the midst of a great emotional outpouring. It was around this time the great talk show host, Donohue, took a mike, impromptu, into an American audience on camera. From then on Americans have been pouring out their hearts and private affairs on national television. It was also at this time two iconic figures in the pursuit of equal rights, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, were murdered.
America was coming together and expressing their loves, fears and desires. Times were changing, and Oprah was a beneficiary. Reflecting on her school days she said: “In 1968 it was real hip to know a black person, so I was very popular.” In 1969 Maya Angelou published her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which in many ways echoed Oprah’s early life. The book tells of how three year-old Maya and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother. It ends with Maya’s pregnancy aged 17. Oprah would later say: “I read it over and over, I had never before read a book that validated my own existence” (the two women would each go on to become icons in their own right and great friends with one another). The book gave Oprah perspective.
Vernon’s hard work and focus paid off when Oprah became an honours student gaining entrance to Tennessee State University on a full scholarship to study Speech Communications and Performing Arts. It was the result of her success in a speaking competition. University was the perfect place for the talented performer who was so at ease in front of a crowd. She became President of the student council, and involved herself with the debating and drama clubs. She even won an invitation to the White House Conference on Youth in 1971. She was also crowned Miss Black Nashville and Miss Tennessee. This was in addition to being crowned Miss Fire Prevention after being chosen to represent them in a beauty pageant.
After a local radio interview she was then given a part-time job as an afternoon news reader. TV Debut A station manager from a company affiliated to CBS, a major TV network, heard her and thought she sounded great – and he wanted her for television. Oprah was shocked, surprised and overawed by the offer, and kept turning it down again and again. Oprah did what she would later continue to do throughout her career: she sought advice from a trusted friend. She was told she was crazy and that’s why she had been studying so hard at university – to get jobs like the one being offered to her. Oprah accepted the job. By the time she was 19 she was the first black co-anchor of an evening news programme in Nashville and still studying at university. She was now making more money part-time than her father was full time.
Oprah moved swiftly through the ranks of various TV companies her obvious talent landing her better and better spots on various news programmes. The move-up was not without its challenges. WJZ in Baltimore hired her (aged 22) to co-anchor the morning news programme. The older white co-host wasn’t pleased with the station’s idea to pair him up with some black, southern, small town, female, upstart. There were complaints about her nose, her hair and all sorts.
WJZ sent her off to have her hair straightened by a stylist inexperienced in ‘black hair’ and he left her bald as a coot. Oprah was eventually transferred to a morning talk show called People Are Talking and she was a sensation. WLS-TV in Chicago viewed an audition tape of Oprah and wanted her. But as always commercial success was dogged by personal challenges. Oprah was smoking cocaine: something she would later reveal as one of the hardest things she’s ever had to speak publicly about. It wasn’t so much the drug she was addicted to but the guy she was dating who was smoking it.
Aged 29, Oprah moved to Chicago becoming the A.M. Chicago anchor in January 1984 with a salary of $200,000 a year. Their ratings were in the basement before she took over. Oprah brought the magic, shifting its focus to issues of controversy. She immediately took the ratings through the roof. A year later the show was renamed the Oprah Winfrey Show. Famed music and TV producer Quincy Jones is in town (Chicago) doing some business and turns on the TV in his room. Flipping through the channels he spots Oprah. The chat show host exudes all the qualities he envisages for a character called Sophia in an upcoming project he’s involved with.
The Queen Enters King World
Quincy Jones and Steven Spielberg were working on a film based on Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. Spielberg was in a Chicago hotel room when he turned on the TV in his room and spotted Oprah. The chat show host exuded all the qualities he envisaged for the character of Sophia. Oprah was cast in the role which, like Maya Angelou’s novel, had some parallels with her early life. It was a hit and Oprah was nominated for an Academy Award.
When King World and ABC came calling for the syndication rights to her TV show, Oprah hit the big time. She sought advice from an associate over dinner. The associate did the maths and recommended she go with King World. She did, and they took the show to nearly 150 cities. Soon after the deal was done Oprah was running around her apartment screaming and hollering waving a cheque for a million dollars above her head. Oprah would eventually own 25% of King World with options to buy more. This led her to become a billionaire. The deal was a first for debut syndication.
After The Color Purple’s staggering success The Oprah Winfrey Show went into the stratosphere. Oprah, with earnings of around $31 million, became the TV industry’s highest paid performer in 1987. Her ratings blew the competition away and she was showered with accolades and awards.
In Full Control
Oprah seized the entrepreneurial reins in 1986, forming her very own production company and naming it Harpo Studios (‘Harpo’ being ‘Oprah’ spelt backwards). By 1988 Harpo was able to wrestle ownership of The Oprah Winfrey Show, making her the first woman in history to own and produce her own talk show. Within a year the company was earning nearly $56m, of which Oprah’s cut was believed to be $30m. As always, though, Oprah was experiencing turmoil in her personal life. Her brother Jeffery Lee sadly died that year of AIDS. Behind the scenes Oprah and her team were furiously doing deals sponsored by the success of the product The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah consolidated her position in the market by buying up shares in various TV stations. Her purpose built studio was so large it required a whole block. The company grew into to conglomerate of media related businesses now named Harpo Inc., with Oprah owning 90%. The balance was owned by entertainment lawyer Jeff Jacobs, who represented Oprah during her A.M. Chicago days. Oprah now began the super-leveraging of her name and brand whilst maintaining full control of it. Forbes magazine described her as “a vertically integrated entertainment powerhouse.” The media mogul developed Harpo Films into what is now Harpo’s largest division. The film division produces motion pictures and TV films. She also bought the screen rights to various books and purchased the massive Eccentric restaurant in Chicago.
In April 2000 O Magazine arrived on the newsstands after partnering with Hearst Magazines, It quickly went from being a bi-monthly to a monthly out stripping many of its established industry titles. The initial 850,000 copies were quickly followed by further 500,000. Fortune Magazine referred to the launch of “O” as the most successful start-up ever in the industry. But the great entrepreneur, who became a legend by learning from her mistakes, also made some mistakes in business. Her O At Home spin-off magazine failed to take off and folded soon after launch.
Oprah formed an interactive cable company Oxygen Media, Inc., in 1998 with partners executive Geraldine Laybourne (formerly of Nickelodeon) Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner and Caryn Mandabach. The channel concentrates on Oprah’s core audience – women. The brand has been extended to both women’s and men’s clothing via her ecommerce site Oprahstore.com.
In 2006, a $55 million contract was signed with XM Satellite Radio to create a new radio channel, Oprah Radio. In January 2011 Oprah and Disney plan to launch OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network a speciality channel replacing the flagging Discovery Health Channel. Oprah will be the chairwoman with editorial control.
Oprah employs 250 people involved in numerous profitable businesses and is thought to be behind the largest property deal done by a private individual ever. Her contributions to charities are endless, and genuinely worldwide. She’s noted as show-business’ biggest donator to charity in America and is listed among the top 50 most generous philanthropists.
Phoenix Oprah was born poor, and painfully disadvantaged, in the Deep South state of Mississippi, the epicentre of prejudicial America. She was raped, sexually abused and neglected. But she seized whatever opportunities she could. As a woman living in a ‘man’s world’, she turned negativity into positivity. She monetised her brand, became a billionaire, and now uses her wealth to reach out and help those most vulnerable in society across the globe. As Patricia Sellers of Fortune Magazine and Chair of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit, put it: “Oprah’s life is the essence of her brand and willingness to open up about it on daytime TV helped win the enduring trust of her audience.” The legacy of slavery spread across America like a glacier stunting the progress of African Americans. But when the racial climate changed the glacier thawed and gaps appeared, representing fleeting opportunities for the nimble, the gifted and the lucky to get through. Sanford Winfrey could never imagine what fortunes changing America would produce for his great-granddaughter and others. Oprah’s own suffering combined with her talent and her resourcefulness provided her with the means to help America heal itself in many ways. Her reward in so doing would be substantial.
Extract from Ron Shillingford’s ‘History of the World’s Greatest Female Entrepreneurs’
I think the public are being misled with regards to what really (reality) accounts for the success of an entrepreneur or any other individual. Predation and the 'power of context ' is far more intstructive. Success is a probability event as is evolution. However a concious species has the means to manipulate probabilty (Monte Carlo Entrepreneur). With an 'evolved sense of conciousness' someone in need of economic change can now bring it about more readily by reducing the odds against her/him.