SALT LAKE CITY — Oprah Winfrey said guests on two early episodes of her show, a group of white supremacists and then a man who cheated on his wife, fundamentally changed her philosophy about her role in what would become a wildly successfully program.
Winfrey, who was a featured speaker Thursday at the Qualtrics X4 Summit in downtown Salt Lake City, said she will be "forever grateful" for the revelation she had following a pair of appearances that included sharing the set with a group of skinheads that was followed just days later by a trio of guests that included a husband, the wife he was cheating on, and the woman with whom he was cheating.
"I felt during the (skinheads) show I don't like the fact that I'm putting this out into the world," Winfrey said. "I could sense they were using this as a platform to spread their hatred.
"A week after I'd done the skinheads … during a live show the husband said on national TV to his wife that his girlfriend was pregnant. I felt exactly what you just expressed. … This should not happen to a human being and certainly not under my watch."
Winfrey said she told her producer "we need to figure a way to be a force for good" and ultimately found the path to that goal after reading the book, "The Seat of the Soul," by Gary Zukav, and adopting an intention-focused approach to choosing her guests. Winfrey said every show she did after that was born of an "intentional" process that she believes served both her guests and her audience at a higher level.
Winfrey said she aligned herself with the question, "How could I serve them as a force of enlightenment and entertainment" and directed her production staff, "Don't come to me with the idea unless you know why you're doing it."
That mindset would prove a winning one for Winfrey who went on to produce over 4,500 episodes of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which ran from 1986 until 2011. Winfrey said she's done over 37,000 one-on-one interviews over her career. She has also starred in numerous films, penned five books, launched her own television network and has built a reputation as one of the leading philanthropists in the world.
Winfrey said, looking back at a show that was perhaps the most popular piece of television programming of all time, she believes the journey was a quest that was seeking deeper meaning, both for herself and for the guests she featured.
"The show wasn’t about a show nor is any of our work really about the work," Winfrey said. "It’s about how you use your inner self, your one grand, big, precious life in service to the world.
"The one thing I know for sure is that whether you're in Utah or California, Mexico … all over the world, human beings want the same thing. It's why I was able to have, and continue to have, the connection with the audience that I served. Because I know you want the same thing I want. Ultimately you want to be able to live out the fullest, highest truest expression of yourself as a human being."
Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds, who spoke with Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith on stage ahead of Winfrey's appearance, told the packed audience at the Salt Palace, that he, too, is on his own path of discovery and integrity when it come to making music.
"For me, music is honesty, it's emotion, it's connecting with people who live different lives, walk different paths," Reynolds said. "My goal when I walk on the stage is be authentic and go to the place I was when I wrote those songs.
"As long as it's honest, those are our best shows."
Reynolds and his bandmates were also hired to perform a private show Thursday evening for the attendees of the Qualtrics event.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also made an appearance on the Qualtrics stage Thursday and one of his first orders of business was dropping a shoutout to Gail Miller and Gregg Miller and recognizing the Miller family, owners of the Utah Jazz, as one of the longest-running ownership organizations in the league. Silver also heaped praise on Smith and Bill McDermott, CEO of European tech giant SAP, the company that purchased Qualtrics last fall for $8 billion in an all-cash deal.
Silver said the NBA has been using products from both companies for years and noted the league is in a realm where their "product," even though a competitive sport, was competing against some very large, and well-financed entertainment producers. And the operational and analytics tools provided by SAP and Qualtrics were key tools in that fight.
"Last year over a billion people watched some portion of an NBA game," Silver said. "But only 1 percent ever stepped foot inside an arena. We're working to answer the question: How close can we come to replicating that experience?"
McDermott and Smith had a moment to recap some of the path that led the two companies to conjoin last November, a deal that was struck just days ahead of an expected public stock offering from Qualtrics. McDermott said an exhaustive vetting process ahead of the offer left no doubt as to the viability of what the two companies could accomplish together.
"We analyzed all the competition in (Qualtrics') space," McDermott said. "We looked at your platform, your engineers, your culture, including the leadership and even the mascot, Barnaby (Qualtrics co-founder Jared Smith's dog). And we said 'Wow this is the purest platform.'"
"The combination of SAP and Qualtrics makes the competition non-viable and will consolidate the entire space and run away with the market."4 comments on this story
Qualtrics was founded in 2002 by Ryan and Jared Smith based on technology first developed by Ryan Smith and his father, BYU researcher and professor Scott Smith, amid the elder Smith's successful fight against throat cancer. Initially conceived of as a tool for academics, the company and its platform has since evolved into a tech behemoth that leverages survey input and a business analytics engine to let its clients — now numbering over 10,000 — know exactly how well, or not, their companies are performing.