How the Oprah Winfrey Network Thrives Under Co-Leadership
At the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), it’s all about teamwork. So it stands to reason that the cable enterprise would have co-presidents. Sheri Salata joined Harpo Studios in 1995, while Erik Logan came on board in 2008 and still refers to himself as “the new kid.” The two were named OWN co-presidents in 2011, the year the network made its debut. After a rocky ratings start, OWN has grown stronger each year and is now available in 85 million households.
Working as a team can be difficult, but Salata and Logan have perfected their business marriage, which allows them to support and complement each other as they navigate the challenging television industry together. Here, they offer leadership lessons from Oprah Winfrey herself and show how to inject personal development into the workplace.
Q: How is it working as a team of leaders rather than as an individual team leader?
Salata: The note for others in trying this is you can have a better quality of life and perform better. But there’s always the chemistry question, and that isn’t an insignificant concern. You have to put the right people together.
Logan: I have seen many failed business marriages, and I’ve seen businesses that can’t support two leaders because of the economic pressure. But I can say we are much more efficient at work and are better able to do the life-work balancing act, which is really important to me. I can do the things I need to do for my family. I can go away and not worry. I can’t imagine doing this job without each other to help maintain that balance so I can take the time to see my kids and go on trips. That’s the reason why we are such staunch advocates of team leadership.
Q: How do you complement each other, and how do you make the “marriage” work?
Logan: It’s really the perfect marriage from two different parts of the business. Sheri was an executive producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show, and I grew up on the promo [side]. My job is taking content to establish a business around it and monetize it. We lean in from different backgrounds. But there’s really no division of state, which surprises people. It’s not like the typical creative and business division. We are an alliance, and we are in an organization that doesn’t create a frictional culture.
Salata: We are really good friends and are loyal to each other. No one gets in the middle of us. Many have tried, but we have a sacred rule of trust. We are each other’s first call in the morning and the last call at night. We tell each other everything. And we agree that both of us won’t have a bad day at the same time. The third leg of this stool is Oprah, who deals with us like a third partner. We can’t work on this mission and deliver this mission and have a hootenanny going on behind the doors.
Q: What have you learned from Winfrey about being a good leader?
Logan: Oprah is a woman of clear intentions. One of my personal lessons, working for her, is that it always starts with the intentions first. If we stay true with the intentions, everything else will fall into place. It’s easy to get consumed with the busy-ness of work, but Oprah always pulls back and elevates her eyes above the horizon.
Salata: I learned the principle of validation from her. Did you hear me? Did you see me? Did what I said matter to you? I have heard it no less than a thousand times from Oprah. It’s one of her clearest, most unflinching lessons when it comes to being a good leader.
Q: How does Winfrey’s personal-development mantra, “Live your best life,” translate into the business world?
Salata: Oprah means operating with integrity and transparency. Doing a deal with us is different than other places. It’s a trinity [Salata, Logan, Winfrey] with arms aligned. She is the leader and she is the “OW” on the masthead. When we do a deal, when we speak, we are representing her. And we are very clear on what that means.
Q: Is running a personal-development business different from other types of businesses?
Logan: Yes. I come from a background of working for a lot of different satellite radio stations, and it is totally different. Here, the company and the employees are true to the intention. On the deal part, it actually makes deals very easy. When you represent a company that doesn’t stand for a person, it’s subject to interpretation. Here, we represent Oprah, so we’re real clear about what we can do and what we can’t do.
If Sheri and I aren’t clear, it’s fairly easy to get a quick answer because we can call the brand directly. At other companies, you can play around with the brand. Here, the brand actually calls you back and lets you know exactly where the brand stands.
Salata: I can actually sit down and have lunch with the brand.
Q: Winfrey is a strong advocate of Transcendental Meditation (TM) at the workplace. How does meditating together contribute to your company culture?
Salata: We learned about this intensive immersion into TM in Fairfield, Iowa [as part of an Oprah’s Next Chapter episode in 2012]. And we thought, Gosh, what a great benefit to offer employees to relieve stress.
No question about it, we’re a different organization when we meditate together. Because we are such a public company, there’s a lot of pressure on us. We have a high degree of visibility in an already stressful job. If you can’t carve out time for yourself, things can get out of hand very quickly.
At work, a bell goes off at a set time, and you can either gather in a conference room or go somewhere by yourself. Two times a day for 20 minutes, you can choose to sit still, do nothing and just be.
The people who take advantage of it all say it is even more powerful when more people are in the room. The impact on the [work] environment is great. Even people who come from outside, the vendors and partners, say they see a level of calm in a potentially very stressful [workplace].
Logan: Oprah believes in practicing what you preach, and I can tell you we encourage everyone to find their own meditation. It might not work for everyone, but there’s something that you can do that will allow you to find that calm time for yourself.
Q: Circling back on another Oprah-ism, what was your aha moment in the television business?
Logan: Sheri and I came with zero experience in cable. But we knew what the product is. We knew if we always focused on the next right thing, the business would take care of itself, and we didn’t have to think about what would happen in the next five years. The aha moment was leveraging the knowledge of a brand [into a successful venture].
Salata: For me it was realizing that [the Oprah brand] can transcend all platforms. I had a little trepidation going into this, but in the end, it’s all the same thing. Some days we’re laughing like crazy, and sometimes we’re having a day of great conversations with the leaders of our times on Super Soul Sunday. The Oprah brand is different from any other network because it stands for [an iconic] person.