Oprah network president set to speak at Tippie graduation ceremony

BY LAUREN COFFEY | MAY 08, 2013 5:00 AM

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University of Iowa students do not have to know what they are going to do for the rest of their college careers or after they graduate — Sheri Salata just says it’s important to keep an open mind to all the options they may have.

Salata will be the commencement speaker at the UI Tippie College of Business graduation on May 18. She is the current president of the Oprah Winfrey Network as well as Harpo Studios.

Salata has spent 15 years working her way up in the corporation and believes that if students follow their passion, job opportunities will happen.

“You don’t have to have it figured out on graduation or even three months after graduation,” Salata said in an interview with The Daily Iowan. “Life is a joyful unfolding, and there’s a magic and destiny that comes with the unexpected serendipity. If you focus on that, you will end up in the kind of work that makes you happy.”

Barbara Thomas, the director of communications and external relations for the business school, said that although Salata does not follow the typical business path, she believes she will appeal to students.

“Sheri is in a nontraditional business position,” Thomas said. “She’s not an accountant, she’s not the head of sales — she runs a network. You think she would be a potential communications major, but she followed her passion and combined it with business. You don’t have to follow the standard business plan, you just need to work hard and do the right thing.”

Salata graduated from the Tippie College of Business in 1980, receiving a degree in business administration in marketing. She originally went to produce television commercials and also was a freelance producer. She eventually went to Harpo Productions and over the years became president of the company. Her success continued further, becoming president of OWN in July 2011.

Salata said her soon-to-be 19 years working with Oprah Winfrey have caused her to strive to be not only a better employee but also a better person.

“[Winfrey] is my greatest teacher and one of the greatest teachers in the world,” Salata said. “I’ve never known someone with this kind of integrity. After working with her, my integrity muscle is really strong, and I almost feel like I’m required to evolve and grow to keep up with her.”

One graduating business student believes Salata’s speech will bring a new perspective to the seniors.
“I think it’s really cool someone so successful is coming, especially because she’s an Iowa Hawkeye and from the Tippie College of Business,” UI student Timmy Rowley said. “It’s cool to see all these successful people like Tippie and Pomerantz have buildings named in honor of them, and now we get to see women in business as well.”

Business Dean Sarah Gardial said administrators try to reach out to speakers who will inspire students.

“For our commencement events, we try to find a speaker who can provide the graduates with an inspirational story of his/her own personal success as well as provide them with valuable advice for their futures,” Gardial said in a statement. “Given her tremendous success, we think Ms. Salata is an excellent choice for a speaker.”

UI senior Bryce Cooks also thought Salata was a unique speaker because of her current career in the entertainment industry.

“It’s interesting that they chose someone from OWN,” Cooks said. “Obviously, Oprah’s involved with a lot of business, but you would expect someone from a more financial track.”

The 2012 business-school commencement speaker was Tom Kloet, the CEO of TMX group — a Canadian stock-exchange company.

Ultimately, Salata urges graduating students, in a time of change and uncertainty, to embrace the unknown.

“Life is going to change; things are going to happen,” she said. “As my boss would say, work to the fullest to be who you want to be. It is your top priority to be hopeful and be excited about things flowing through our lives; it gives fuel to us.”

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