Jeffrey Hayzlett

By Jeffrey Hayzlett

Business Is In The Blood – Lessons About Success from Christie Hefner

Business Is In The Blood – Lessons About Success from Christie Hefner 150 150 jeffreyhayzlett

This summer, I had the privilege of interviewing Christie Hefner during the C-Suite Network High Stakes Forum. Christie and I have known each other for a long time, and it’s always great to catch up. While you may recognize her last name, and I’ll get to that later, let me tell you she’s a successful woman in her own right. Her business pedigree is second to none and currently serves as Chairwoman of Hatchbeauty Brands. 


We started the interview talking about an important topic that never seems to go away—the number of women in the c-suite. As I write this, there are just 37 female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, which happens to be a record. However, if you drill into the numbers, that’s only 7%! 


“If you really think about it, the fact that we’re still mired in something around 20% of women on boards of companies and in the c-suite when women are more than half the population, more than half the MBAs. It’s just distressing and depressing, frankly,” Christie said.  


“I think if we can’t get the gender diversity part right, it’s going to make it even harder to get the rest of the kinds of representations that we need because each group of people is an even smaller portion of the population,'” Christie added. 


Christie said that despite all the strides women and minorities have made over the last 50 years, companies tend to appoint people to boards who are like them.  She says companies need to dedicate themselves to searching for more diverse candidates or working with groups who know where to find them. 


She adds that even search firms tasked with finding diverse boards sometimes don’t do a good job finding the right candidates because board searches are not as lucrative as top-level executive-level searches.   


“All of us are guilty of unconscious bias,” Christie said. “My favorite example to demonstrate the power of that was many years ago when there were virtually no women in the orchestras of the most renowned symphonies. When the conductors queried about this, the answer was always ‘Well, we would be very happy to have women in our orchestra, but there are not women who perform at the level that we need.’ Then someone had the brilliant idea of having people audition behind a screen. And don’t you know in a relatively short period of time…you see definite gender diversity.” 


The conversation then turned to her time running the famous magazine, Playboy — which, if you haven’t figured out by now, was founded by her father, the late Hugh Hefner. Playboy was more than a family business, it was a global brand with an iconic founder. 

“Hef had never really wanted to be CEO. He wanted to be editor and publisher of a great magazine that then beyond anyone, including his dreams, became this empire. Therefore, he became this CEO,” Christie said. “He was actually very happy to be more of the chief creative officer and delegate or allow me to be the more classic CEO.” 


You may wonder why she referred to him as “Hef” and not Dad. Christie said it’s simple. 


“Whenever someone came to me and said, ‘Do you know what your dad did?’ It was kind of like when one spouse says to the other, ‘Do you know what your son did?'” Christie said. “I always referred to him as ‘Hef’ in any business setting, whether it was just an internal meeting or externally. But if we were in a private setting playing backgammon or watching a movie or I was writing a card for his birthday, I would call him ‘Dad.'” 


Business was always in Christie’s blood.


Let’s be honest. The Playboy brand has had its fair share of criticism over the years from people on all sides. While that didn’t bother Christie personally, said she knew what she was getting into. 


“My father once said the magazine, particularly the photographs, were something of a Rorschach Test that would reveal how someone felt about sexuality, felt about nudity, felt about these issues (abortion, gay rights, gun control, legalization of marijuana),” Christie said. “I knew going in I was going to be a part of that.” 


Even as she moved up the ranks from the president to CEO, Christie still had her dad watching over her shoulder.  


“I remember him saying to me at one point, ‘I feel like I threw this fantastic party that I was at for all these years, and now you’re having to clean it up,'” Christie recalled. “I said ‘Yeah, I kind of feel that way.'” 


And Christie did more than clean up. She started looking to grow the Playboy brand beyond the magazine. To do that, Christie and the board got to work. Ultimately, she got the New York Stock Exchange to issue two stock classes that brought in institutional investors, giving the company the capital it needed to expand. 


“The opportunity was not to remain as a magazine company and launcher by other magazines, but to think of ourselves as a brand-driven multimedia and lifestyle company and to think electronically and internationally,” Christie said. 


Playboy was an early adopter of cable TV as a platform. That mindset set it up for success in CD-ROMs, VHS, DVD, and eventually a website.  


“This was in 1992, there were only 10,000 websites, and only 10% of the United States had ever been on a website,” Christie recalls. “So, it was a pretty radical idea.” 


Christie didn’t stop at a website. Under her reign, she began licensing the Playboy logo on everything from keychains to pajamas turning a stodgy backroom old boys network business into a global brand that’s still coveted today. 


Christie’s ability to pivot Playboy in the 1990s isn’t that different from the challenges many of our businesses face during the COVID-19 pandemic.  


“Starting in the 80s and 90s, that there was this acceleration at the rate of change that companies had to respond to and that the old idea of a 10-year plan was no longer relevant and one had to develop a core agility in order to make adjustments.” Christie said. “If that was true, in the 90s, we’re kind of at warp speed now. The pandemic is almost a time machine to the future, and it’s forcing the acceleration of everything.” 


“It’s also, I think, forcing a kind of different way of thinking about culture as one that can actually keep pace with the unpredictable and unsettled times that we are living in,” Christie added. 


It was great catching up with Christie and talking about the past, present, and future of business. She’s more than her last name or background. She’s a sound businesswoman, who knows the industry and is able to adapt to change and do so successfully. You can hear the entire talk here