Christie Hefner ’74

Matthew Gilson

You know it when you see it.

This is, perhaps, the truest thing you can say about class, which Christie Hefner ’74 is often said to have brought in abundance to Playboy Enterprises, founded in 1953 by her father, Hugh.

When Christie became Playboy’s president in 1982 at the age of 29, she was young, self-confident and brimming with natural talent. Her gritty work ethic quickly dismissed any suspicion that she felt entitled to a corner office at the family business. And her searching intelligence — elected to Phi Beta Kappa during her junior year at Brandeis, she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and American literature — added depth to her skills.

Hefner used her considerable energies to transform Playboy into a global multimedia giant, becoming its chairman and CEO in 1988. By the time she stepped down in 2009, she was — and still is — the longest-serving woman CEO of a public company.

After Playboy, excited by the possibilities embodied by Barack Obama’s election to the U.S. presidency, Hefner began working with the progressive think tank the Center for American Progress, and redoubled her long-standing efforts in support of social justice causes: the protection of First Amendment rights, the quest for women’s equality, the funding of AIDS research and patient care.

Then, two years ago, Hefner climbed back into the corporate saddle. She became the executive chairman of Canyon Ranch Enterprises, a new division of the company that runs the Canyon Ranch spas in Tucson; Lenox, Mass.; Las Vegas; and other locations. Hefner’s focus is to leverage the brand and intellectual property of Canyon Ranch via media and business partnerships that encourage consumers to bring the spas’ health-conscious ideas and amenities into their everyday lives.

When or where were you most miserable 
at Brandeis?

When I had to have 24-hour security 
after Patricia Hearst was kidnapped and 
the FBI notified my father that I was on a 
list of targets.

Who was your favorite Brandeis professor?

Larry Fuchs [the founder of the American 
studies department], who not only was a 
great professor but became a great friend.

Where did you usually spend 
Saturday night?

South Boston, where my college boyfriend, 
Paul Regan, was from.

If you could be any other Brandeisian, 
who would you be?

Tom Friedman.

What is the most important value you learned at Brandeis?

While I didn’t learn the value of “commitment to social justice” at Brandeis, I certainly honed and strengthened it there.

Which talent did Brandeis help you 
develop most?

Critical thinking, and the ability to effectively and persuasively communicate.

What do you wish you had 
studied harder?

I wish I had studied economics and physics.

What would your friends say is your greatest strength?

I actually asked several friends, including two from Brandeis, and it was a split between integrity, and loyalty to and support of friends.

What would your friends say is your greatest weakness?

I asked the same friends this question, and the response was “a determination to solve problems that keeps me too long in frustrating situations.”

What is your blind spot?

The fact that I see the best in people, which makes me forgiving and can sometimes cross over into naiveté.

What book do you read again and again?

There is no book I read again and again, but a book that had a seminal effect on me was Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook.”

Whom would you like to sing a duet with?

Tony Bennett.

Which deadly sin is your middle name?


If you could climb into a time machine, whom would you like to hang out with?

Either Benjamin Franklin or Queen Elizabeth I.

On your deathbed, what will you be most grateful for?

Great friends.

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