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Giving from Living: Business Alum Makes Golden Pledge

Sheri SalataAs president of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Harpo Studios, and former executive producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show, paying it forward is the example Sheri Salata sees every day from her mentor and friend, Oprah Winfrey.

It’s an example the Tippie College of Business graduate emulates in her own actions—especially when it comes to her alma mater.

She recently made a Golden Pledge ($100,000) to the college to establish the Women Who Lead Scholarship, as a means to help educate future generations of business professionals by giving them the start they need and deserve. Salata's support is focused on providing scholarships to female underrepresented students. 

“When I learned about the Golden Pledge, I knew that it was the perfect way for me to keep a promise,” said Salata, who gave the Tippie commencement speech this past May. “For the past 18 years, I have worked with the most generous woman on the planet—Oprah Winfrey—and the only thing she has ever asked in return has been for me to find my own way to be generous, to share…to pass it on.

Salata attributes her success to hard work, patience, and the solid business foundation she garnered at Iowa.

She gained the confidence to take a leap of faith and leave an established-but-going-nowhere job, 401k and all, from a man she calls her “career angel”—advertising executive Perry Stebor—in 1995.

“He taught me everything that would ultimately get me through the door at The Oprah Winfrey Show,” said Salata, who earned her BBA in marketing in 1980. “He gave me the confidence to even apply for a job across town at Harpo Studios. I was drawn to the mission and knew that if I could get the Oprah team to take a chance on me, there was a high probability that I would find a permanent career ‘home.’

“He also taught me a great lesson for anyone starting out: focus on what you were hired to do and do it to the best of your ability. Don’t worry about the next promotion…just become excellent.”

Considering the lessons she’s learned along the way, Salata has a poignant message for all upcoming, recent, and even established Tippie graduates: You don’t know it all, so make sure to learn something every day.

“Make career decisions with your heart and not your head,” Salata said. “Having a meaningful career is not separate and apart from having a meaningful life; and having a fabulous, rewarding, meaningful life is always entirely in your hands.”

“I have had so many great life experiences to grow—to evolve—both in business, and as a human being. Now my favorite thing is making that happen for others. It is ‘full-circle-moment’ living—the real icing on the cake.”

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