Oprah Winfrey on never taking her company public: 'I like to be my own boss'

CNBC 2 weeks ago

Even though Oprah Winfrey isn't interested in being charge of the country, she is adamant about maintaining control of her business ventures, including her production company Harpo Studios, by keeping them private.

During a 2006 segment of CNBC's "Squawk on the Street," Winfrey spoke with CNBC contributor Scott Wapner following the launch of her XM Satellite Radio show "Oprah and Friends." During the interview, Wapner asked Winfrey whether she had ever considered taking her empire public. Her response: No way.

"It crossed my mind, but it didn't stay there very long because I like being in control of my own destiny," Winfrey said. "I like being able to have a say in what does or does not happen, and I don't want to be controlled by anybody, or have to respond to anyone else's ideas about what I should be doing."

Winfrey's argument makes sense. There are a lot of rules regarding how a public company must operate, such as running on a quarterly schedule, releasing public performance reports and adhering to strict regulations. Not to mention, going public is expensive and there are mandatory fees that private companies aren't subject to.

Maintaining her empire privately has panned out extremely well for Winfrey. In 1986, she launched The Oprah Winfrey Show, which lasted 25 years and won her numerous awards. That same year, Winfrey founded Harpo Studios, the production company that's been behind everything from daytime TV shows, including Oprah's own show, Dr. Phil, The Dr. Oz Show and Rachael Ray, to feature films such as "Selma" (2014) and "The Hundred-Foot Journey" (2014).

Winfrey is also a co-founder of Oxygen Media, which operates the Oxygen Network, and the CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Plus, Winfrey has her own podcast, magazine and massively popular book club.

But as much as Winfrey's success is attributed to all she's done and accomplished, it's also due to the times she said "no." Knowing when to to put on the brakes has added to the longevity of her career, the late David Carr wrote in a 2009 article for The New York Times. Along with a whole list of other business decisions she avoided, Winfrey's choice to keep her company private meant she could remain "in control of both her operation and her destiny" all these years, Carr wrote.

Now, more than 10 years since Winfrey's 2006 interview with Wapner, the business mogul has stuck to her word. Her empire remains private — and it's flourished. Winfrey, 65, is worth an estimated $2.7 billion.

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Winfrey isn't the only CEO who's been forthcoming about the decision to stay private. Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strictler told The New York Times in 2015 that the company doesn't "ever want to sell or go public" since the crowdfunding platform has elected to become a "public benefit corporation," which means it's legally required to prioritize its societal impact, and therefore, going public could interfere with its mission.

Other notable company heads have even regretted the decision. In 2019, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel joked that he shouldn't have taken the company public, and Leon Black, chairman and CEO of private equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC, revealed during the 2019 Bloomberg Invest Conference that he "absolutely" has regrets about taking his company public back in 2011.

Whether or not to IPO is dependent on a company's circumstances, and it isn't the right option for everyone. In fact, in recent years, there's been a steady trend away from companies going public.

For Winfrey, staying private has been a smart move. As she told Wapner: "I've already lived that life of having bosses, OK? So, I like to be my own boss."

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