VetFamily: Christie Hefner, One of the Longest-surviving CEOs

Christie Hefner

Christie Hefner sits atop the legendary media empire created by her Army Veteran father by applying business acumen and leadership amid great change in the publishing industry. She’s also garnered seniority status in corporate America as one of America’s longest-surviving CEOs, and is counted among the Forbes 100 most powerful women.

Early on, it was clear she was out to make a name for herself, not because she was the daughter of Hugh Hefner. Christie Hefner was born in Chicago in 1952. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa in her junior year of college, Hefner graduated from Brandeis University summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and American literature in 1974, and began her career with a goal of entering politics or practicing law. Although most of her young life was spent with her mother after her parents’ separation, Christie Hefner began to work at Playboy after college, later took her father’s last name and then the helm of Playboy Enterprises in 1988 as its Chairman and CEO after her father suffered a stroke.

“I joined Playboy after working as a journalist for a year. I didn't expect to make my career at the company; rather I was thinking about going to law school. When I found the businesses interesting and the challenge of management intriguing, I took courses at graduate schools in Marketing, Management Policy and Finance; but really I learned, as they say, from MBWA (Management By Walking Around) not from an MBA,” she says.

Reflecting on the impact of Playboy, she sees its historical relevance: “In my father's case, he was a part of the returning generation of WWII Veterans who started to envision a life different from their father's,” she said in a 2003 online interview with the Washington Post Web site. Playboy was born to reflect the idea of life as something to be celebrated and enjoyed, and yet also bearing with it responsibilities for giving back and being informed.

In 1944, after graduating from high school, Hugh Hefner joined the U.S. Army as an infantry clerk, working for a military newspaper. After his honorable discharge from the service in 1946, Hefner began playing with the idea of publishing a men's magazine while working as a promotional copywriter at Esquire magazine before launching Playboy.

Nowadays the magazine remains the best-read men’s magazine in the U.S. and abroad, and innovates outside of print media, most notably becoming the first national magazine to launch on the Internet, with in 1994. Still, the company has faced steep losses due to a general magazine advertising slowdown. To combat that bleak picture, the company said it would cut its annual programming and editorial budgets by $4.5 million and trim about 30 jobs as part of a cost-cutting plan. Christie Hefner continues to build the brand, exporting it overseas and growing it at home with the creation of videogames, as well as plans for new casinos in London and Macau. She has also launched a campaign to teach parents how to use content control devices to keep children away from adult programming.

Christie Hefner is active in a wide range of humanitarian and charitable activities, receiving popular acclaim for her efforts. She served as project director of Chicago's CORE Center, raising $30 million to build a four story, 60,000 square foot facility that provides a comprehensive range of outpatient care to individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. She also is the first woman to receive the Executive Leadership Award from the National Society of Fundraising Executives.

Hefner was inducted into the Women's Business Development Center Hall of Fame for "opening doors and building opportunities for all women entrepreneurs." In September 2000, Hefner and her husband, former Illinois state senator William Marovitz, were presented with the inaugural Champion of Freedom Award from the Anti-Defamation League for their commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.

She also has lectured on college campuses nationwide, including the Harvard Business School, University of Chicago, the Wharton School of Business, Columbia University, and Northwestern University, where she delivered the 2000 commencement address.

Hefner serves on the boards of the Business Committee for the Arts, Canyon Ranch Health Resort, The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's Diversity Committee, and on the board of governors of the Museum of Television & Radio Media Center.

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