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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

She made Playboy rock & roll!

She once told Malcolm Forbes that "you may be publishing the capitalist tool but I publish the capitalist carrot, as it makes it, worth all that hard work!" The lady who made this comment unapologetically is Playboy Enterprises Inc founder Hugh Hefner's daughter, Christie Hefner, who wanted to be a lawyer or a journalist when she grew up, and never thought she would be working at Playboy.

But today she confidently says, "I think we are going to be the pre-eminent entertainment brand for grownups, the way Disney is the pre-eminent brand for kids, says the CEO of Playboy Enterprises, Christy Hefner. So, when she never thought she would be working at Playboy neither did her father think she would be there too. He has a memory though, of her standing by a typewriter in his office, when he was putting out the first issue of the magazine in 1953 - so that should have been a sign of things to come!

Hugh Hefner's intentions were never naughty, or so he says! He says, he always wanted to put out a classy,lifestyle and entertainment magazine for men and he succeeded beyond his imagination. His first issue sold 50,000 copies and within seven years, his circulation had reached the 1 million mark. Today, it sells seven million copies.

So, Hefner had arrived at 27 with his first issue, which he put together on his kitchen table and after having mortgaged his furniture twice. He also did something else with his first issue - he put the reigning sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe on the cover and didn't put a date on the cover, so newsagents would sell more copies of it, rather than send it back as they would have, after the sell-by date was over. This was street smarts of the best kind!

After winning over a conservative 1950s audience, Hugh Hefner worked his charm on his daughter to see, if he could lure her to work at Playboy. Editor-in-Chief & Founder of Playboy, Hugh Hefner says, "What she did when she joined the company was kind of move from one division to another and learn the business." And learn she did. She quickly gave up her plans for going to law school and this where she has been ever since. Today, she has made it $50 million company.

Chairman & CEO, Christie Hefner told Ingrid Vanderveldt's show American Made, shown on CNBC channel, "If I had made some of those big decisions that some big companies make which don't work out, we wouldn't be here. So, that's the hardest part, that we pretty much had to get everything right." But she was also aware that people would not give her credit for her accomplishments and would say she achieved it because she was Hugh Hefner's daughter.

But both father and daughter have seen their company through tough political times, like the Reagan era - of "political correctness and a very difficult time for Playboy." Hugh Hefner recalls, "I held the people who were running the business end of the company then, responsible for it and morale was low." On hindsight, Christie feels her father did not want to be heading a public company but "wound up inheriting a complicated business to run, when what he started off with was, a vision for a great magazine."

"There are to kinds of CEOs - those who make decisions and those who make speeches" -this was what a Playboy magazine article on business leaders said, and Christie obviously prefers to be the one who makes the decisions and she had to make some tough ones to pull her father's company out of the red. Hugh acknowledges this and says, "She was there to save my ass!"

The uncontrolled expansion needed to be curbed because Playboy was in various other businesses as well, like book publishing, had a book club, a movie business, a record company, a TV business, casinos, hotels, clubs, a modelling agency, a limousine agency and the Playboy merchandise. So, Christie took charge and told the head of finance that, they would manage the businesses with cash, divest businesses they couldn't turn around and allow business units to make decisions on corporate expenses. After this, came the fun part to figure out, how to grow the company.

That's when cable TV was exploited and the Playboy Channel was launched - which India is a long way away from getting in its bedrooms - because the company decided to "refocus on communications, which Playboy does well." Interestingly, this was something her father had also explored with two adult variety shows called 'After Dark' and 'Playboy's Penthouse' years earlier with top Hollywood stars like Sammy Davis Jr performing in them.

She and her father did disagree on whether or not they needed to shut down the Playboy clubs - which they later did along with the hotels. Christie says, she sees a certain beauty in the phrase "rationalising the lines of business", which see aptly paraphrases as "dumping the losers!"

Christie and her father had made another bold move. He had made his daughter the President of a company that was perceived as a "male chauvnist citadel", and she was one of the very few women in a top position of a NYSE listed company and that set tongues wagging. Back then, Christie had gone on record to say, "I had considered wearing nightgowns to work but thought that it would be distracting, so I opted for business clothes!" She was a novelty then. Today, ofcourse, there are many women in top positions and even the consumer profile of Playboy has changed. More women buy Playboy merchandise and more couples watch the Playboy channel - so it no longer remains a man's preserve.

She says, "I feel like I'm a steward for an extraordinary brand and an extraordinary set of assets. She also says that Playboy sells sexy and not sex per se because the magazine is a platform for romantic sexiness, even when there is lot of blatantly hardcore sexual content available out there - namely the internet. And she feels Playboy retains its marketshare because it provides a level of sophistication and style.

The reason that Playboy has been such a wild success in America, despite feminist and political protests, is because of the culture of freedom and the First Amendment. As Christie puts it, "No other company embodies the right to speak their mind, and has fought for that right, than Playboy."

Playboy: The Brand
Playboy licenses its trademark bunny for the worldwide manufacture and sale of its merchandise, which brings in half-a-billion in sales earnings. She obviously, does not want to lose control over such a valuable brand, so she remains a active marketing partner. She explains, "We have a top flight staff of designers who produce a style book every season with the colours, trends and uses fo all the Playboy iconography - whether that's the rabbit head or the Playboy playmate."

With the internet making Playboy images easily accessible, the brand is moving into the $10 billion gaming industry, with the adult game called Playboy The Mansion, where you get to play, party and make out with scantily clad bunnies, in a slick simulation of what really happens at Hugh Hefner's parties! Christie says, such multimedia platforms are great earning models for her company. Playboy also offers video clips on mobiles and saucy Playboy ringtones - basically women's dulcet voices urging you to answer your phone!

Today, Playboy has 25,000 retail stores globally and the magazine is produced in 20 countries and has a 50 million strong readership globally. All this plus Playboy Entertainment, manages 142 million cable and satellite feeds and operates 25 networks in more than 72 countries.

The founder of this empire, Hugh Hefner has some parting words of wisdom, "You are only here for a very short time and one should make the most of it - both in work and play. In a free society, if you are not free in the bedroom, then you are not free at all!"


Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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