The Enormous Successes of an Accidental Businesswoman
As a journalist graduating from Brandice University with plans to go to Yale to study law and public policy, Christie Hefner never imagined she would be a businesswoman. But a summer vacation when she was 22 to Los Angeles to visit her father, Hugh Hefner, changed all of her plans. Hefner’s father suggested that she come to visit and work with him for just a year, so that she could learn about his company, Playboy Enterprises.
“It seemed like an offer maybe that I couldn’t refuse,” she said of her father’s suggestion, “and both of us thought this would be short term.” But a few years quickly passed, and Yale became a distant thought. In 1982, when she was only 26, Hefner became the president of Playboy Enterprises. The company had begun to lose a lot of money, and Hefner believed that she could step in as president and really turn things around.
“It got into trouble, and I sort of stood up and said ‘I think I can help,’” Hefner said.
And so a woman with no formal training and limited business experience found herself in charge. Hefner said that she just had to pursue what she thought was right, and she learned as she went. Hefner successfully restructured the company and did what she referred to as to “dumping the losers.”
Hefner stayed president of Playboy Enterprises until 1988, when father Hugh had a stroke. He recovered completely, but decided that he needed to make some changes. Namely, he did not want to be CEO of the company any longer—he wanted his daughter to take over.
As CEO, Christie began by thinking about the future of Playboy. After doing some research on the company’s brand, Hefner found that it had a deep resonance with consumers. This made her see the possibility of a destination television channel. From there, Hefner began to focus on making the company more electronic and interactive.
Playboy employees who were interested in technology were given a little bit of money to play around with the idea of a website, and in 1994, Playboy became the first national magazine to go on the web. From that point on the brand continued to expand, grow and succeed as it moved across media platforms.
In 2008, after serving as CEO of Playboy for four times longer than the average CEO serves a company, and making her the longest serving CEO of any public company, Hefner stepped down. She decided to go back to her original passions: journalism, law and public policy. Hefner is now engaged in a variety of activities, including the Progressive Think Tank and helping Columbia work on its Journalism Review magazine.
Hefner gives students advice on how to be successful based on her own experiences. The most important thing, she says, is to never stop learning.
“I don’t think you should ever stop meeting people. I don’t think you should ever stop wanting to learn,” she teaches. “Be open to transforming yourself, a few times.” She stresses the importance of learning how to learn, and that intellectual agility was one of the most important things she looked for in hiring new employees for Playboy Enterprises.
There are three basic chapters to life, according to Hefner: working, learning and playing. But they should be intertwined.
“I’m not willing to defer the fun until I’m 65,” she says, “but I also always want to be engaged.” According to Hefner, the best course is to always do a little bit of both.
When asked what her personal opinion is of the way women are portrayed in Playboy, Hefner stands up for the liberating quality of the magazine. The magazine was a huge part of the sexual revolution, where women began to feel liberated from the sexually conservative society and more in control of their bodies. According to Hefner, there is something wrong with the fact that women cannot be taken seriously and be sexy at the same time.
“Women should be able to be both respected and desired,” she says in defense of her stance, “and Playboy stands for that.”
Editor’s Note: REALITY Check Girl supports women in leadership positions and believes that learning about different perspectives is an important part of creating a more understanding society.