Former CEO Christie Hefner Talks About Playboy Past

Bob Johnson

NEW YORK —  Former Playboy CEO Christie Hefner sat down with Bloomberg’s Business Week recently to talk about her 20-year stint as the head of the iconic company, her relationship with father Hugh Hefner and the company’s corporate path.

As a woman running what is essentially the world's most famous company based on men’s fantasies, Hefner said the idea of Playboy didn’t bother her. “I thought it celebrated women as sexual beings,” she told Bloomberg.

She added that although she wasn’t enamored with the idea of hanging out at the Mansion, she agreed with her father on what Playboy represents.

The article also briefly touches on how Hefner — who said she was told that she was the longest serving female CEO of a U.S. public company on record —started out at the Playboy empire as a summer intern.

After a stint as a freelance journalist in Boston, Hefner later returned to bunny central to become chairman and CEO in 1988.

But what she found was a company “in too many businesses.” “They had a modeling agency, movie theaters, limousines, hotels, and clubs. Literally, there were Playboy air fresheners,” she recounted.

Hefner went on to describe how it was tough to get the elder Hefner to close the failing Playboy clubs and instead focus on the brand’s hip, good life heritage in an effort to make Playboy once again relevant to a new generation.

She said she discovered that young women thought it was cool to sport the Playboy rabbit head and turned in that direction. “Wearing a cute jacket or a T-shirt with the [logo] on it was sort of like reading Seventeen when you’re 13. We took a 50-year-old magazine and turned it into a global multimedia lifestyle brand.”

Although the company continued to struggle under her tenure, faced with a highly comeptitive and much more explicit adult industry fueled by the Internet, Hefner felt she had left Playboy in a good position when she departed in 2009.

“When I went to tell Hef, he said, ‘I thought this would happen.’ My father is very consistent in his view that people should do what makes them happy. I never felt pressured to come into the company. I never felt pressured to stay. I put pressure on myself. I left in January [2009], went to the [Obama] inauguration, and started to build a portfolio of personal projects,” Hefner said.

Her new quests include assisting the Center for American Progress liberal think tank into becoming an “ideas factory for the administration.” She’s also helping Columbia Journalism Review increase its posture as “a thought leader in media.”

“Being out of Playboy Enterprises underscores for me what a stressful job it is to be CEO of a public company. I could handle the stress, but it’s 24/7 worrying about everybody else,” Hefner said, adding that she’ll always be associated with the Playboy brand and she’s using that badge to work on social justice and other issues important to her.