Christie Hefner, former CEO of Playboy Enterprise, wants someone to write a book about the things she decided not to do as head of one of the world’s leading erotic brands. “Everything I did always got so much hype around the company and externally from the media, but no one knows about the things I decided not to do,” says Christie. Like there was this one time, when Hard Rock Cafes and themed restaurants were all the buzz. “Every solid brand was coming out with a chain of restaurants and an agent came to me and proposed that Playboy come out with at themed restaurant too. The second he told me we could put my dad’s slippers on the wall, I said heck NO.”
Being a good leader is about listening, says Christie. She found that most of her success at her 20 years at Playboy came from surrounding herself with an intelligent and diverse team of people to help her along the way. She also found that when the company was struggling in her earlier years, not everyone wanted to know every harry detail about how much financial trouble the company was in. “They just wanted to know how I was fixing it.”
Dare to Be Bold
Us college kids are in a new career-age, according to Christie. Before us, our grandparents and parents worked in the system with 3 stages of life: school, work, retirement (where all the fun stuff happens). Now, that idea is shifting and people don’t want to wait till they retire to travel the world, buy a boat or volunteer at the soup kitchen. So instead, people are working longer and retiring later to make room for their career and hobbies. “This is really cool because you kids have so many options. When I was growing up there was a set way things were done, but now.. heck you could graduate college and go work on a dairy farm in southern Wisconsin for a year before working on Wall Street and no one would think anything less of you.”
Education shouldn’t stop. “If you stop learning after you graduate college, prepare yourself for a long, boring, unfulfilled life and career.”
Exercise your Intellectual Agility
Christie talked about “intellectual agility” as the ability to adapt yourself in a business situation, not based on the skills you may or may not have, but based on your natural smartness. This means seeing the big picture, knowing your company (or magazine’s) identityinside and out. “You’d be surprised how it doesn’t even occur to many people out there to figure out a solution to a business issue. So many business professionals are just like machines. They do what their told, but thats it. I looked for that really sharp person who could think for themselves, imagine that.”
“Being a leader is always harder for good leaders than it is for bad ones because they have much more invested, they see the big picturemore clearly and they can foresee negative outcomes of their decisions.” Christie learned how to lead by talking to people lower down in the company. She started an internal newsletter system where every week she’d report her activities as CEO to show the company what progress she had made. “I’d sit down for the week and think about what I’d done, and if I’d only made a few phone calls and had some meetings, well that wasn’t good enough. So I’d rehash out my goals and keep chomping at the bit until we made the change happen.”
Meeting with Christie Hefner last week (or a few weeks ago?) was an enlightening experience. When she spoke to our group of magazine journalists she addressed problems the publishing industry faced. When she spoke to a larger Newhouse journalism school audience, she talked about her career (and inserted some juicy stories). She also touched on two possible print and online media market solutions to solve the free content dilemma.
Many students were thrilled that she came to Newhouse, and they shared my sentiments on meeting her and learning from her years at Playboy. Some people were absolutely not happy that she came, perhaps because her company, arguably on of the world’s strongest brands, is also a huge staple of the porn business. Regardless, she offered insights into stronger business models that adapt for the digital revolution we find our selves in, and her advice applied across the board to marketing, advertising, publishing, business, public relations etc.
Hopefully by doing this series you readers have enjoying getting into the head of the nation’s longest standing female CEOs and one of Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women. Christie is responsible for turning around the floundering Playboy brand during her tenure there, and she puts it best when she said: “Playboy did well not because it was competitive with the delivery of explicit sexual content — in fact, it never was — but because it was able to create a world that was a combination of intelligence, entertainment and lifestyle that appealed to young men. . . In a world where there is more media than ever — more clutter, if you will — the power of the strong brand is greater than it may have been 40 years ago.”