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Monday, January 19, 2009

Don’t worry about Apple; Playboy needs a succession plan: 82-year-old Hugh Hefner should be allowed to retire with what’s left of his dignity

Steve Jobs has Apple investors nervous. The CEO returned to Apple in 1997 after over a decade long hiatus from the company he co-founded. He has since turned the company into a technology powerhouse. The iPod and iPhone make everything in its class look clunky, and the company has an operating system that actually works, giving them an edge on Microsoft and its hopelessly unstable Vista operating system.

Jobs, however, has been battling pancreatic cancer and is now struggling to overcome what investors were initially told was a mysterious hormonal imbalance responsible for his sudden and severe weight loss.

Should investors be concerned? Commenting on the health of the Apple chief executive, Globe and Mail business and technology columnist Matthew Ingram on January 7th wrote:

[T]here is a premium of anywhere from 15 to 25 per cent built into Apple's share price because Steve Jobs is the CEO. If he were to disappear, it would remove billions of dollars in market value overnight. If that doesn't qualify as a "material fact," then I don't know what does.

Since this was written, we now know that Jobs has a more serious health problem than a hormonal imbalance. He announced last week, in fact, that he is taking a six month medical leave and may need a liver transplant.

Jobs is a superstar CEO, and his, hopefully temporary, departure will no doubt hurt the company. But Apple is now well positioned with a technology platform and basket of products capable of dominating the market. Jobs can attend to his health knowing his company is in good shape thanks in large part to his brilliance. And investors can take some comfort in owning a good company, notwithstanding any short term sell-off and the challenges of a global recession.

Playboy Enterprises, by contrast, is in much worse shape, with a brand tied inextricably to a senior citizen who is now a caricature of the man who once embodied the libertine idea of the good life.

Hugh Hefner, chief creative officer of Playboy, has built an internationally recognized brand. Like what he does for a living or not, Playboy is a leader in adult publishing, and Hefner built his company from nothing, leasing his furniture to get Playboy magazine off the ground.

Hefner has a libertarian political streak and has been a champion of free speech throughout his career, perhaps as a matter of business survival. He was arrested on obscenity charges in 1963 for publishing nude shots of Jayne Mansfield in Playboy magazine, which is a rather tame product compared against its raunchier and more explicit competitors like Hustler. Hefner is also a critic of the war on drugs.

But Hefner is now 82-years-old, and it’s time for the man to retire or risk doing permanent damage to the Playboy brand.

I came to this conclusion while watching an episode of The Girls Next Door, also known as The Girls of the Playboy Mansion. It’s a clean, g-rated reality show that features Hefner and four Playboy bunnies who we are expected to believe are his girlfriends, although they kiss him like they would their grandpa and show no genuine intimacy toward him.

Reality shows can introduce a franchise to new audiences, as we saw with the UFC-created Ultimate Fighter mixed martial arts (MMA) realty show. The show introduced mainstream TV viewers to the exciting world of MMA for the first time. A reality show featuring Playboy bunnies at beach parties, water parks, and night clubs would seem to have the makings of a popular, politically-incorrect show (nobody talks about their carbon footprint at the Playboy mansion), except for one problem: an aging Hugh Hefner.

In the only episode of The Girls of Playboy Mansion I’ve seen, the bunnies were headed to a beach party to learn to surf. About 10 girls and Hefner climbed into a luxury motor-coach and headed for the beach. While the girls talked and giggled, Hefner play backgammon by himself in the back of the coach, behaviour you would expect from an 82-year-old man perhaps looking for a little peace and quiet.

At the beach, he shuffled around and mumbled like an old man, and waited for periodic fake kisses from his girlfriends which put a thin veneer of credibility on the increasingly absurd fantasy that this man is still the sophisticated bon vivant to which all men secretly aspire. Even his signature housecoat ensemble looked ridiculous. Rather than a dignified man of leisure, he looked like a senile old man without the wherewithal or the will to get dressed in the morning. It was sad, and this spectacle will not endear a new generation to the Playboy brand.

Soon Hefner, who appears healthy and alert for this age, will realize it’s time to retire his act, or step back from the spotlight. Then what? His daughter runs the business, hardly the image of a playboy.

What is the Playboy brand without Hugh Hefner, but just another pornography company in an already crowded industry that peaked in the 70ties?

The prospects for the Apple brand look very good by comparison.

Posted by Matthew Johnston

Playboy Chart

Posted by westernstandard on January 19, 2009 | Permalink


Hugh Hefner is a filthy pimp, plain and simple. Dignity is N/A.

Posted by: dp | 2009-01-19 7:07:02 PM

You're forgetting that his daughter stepped down from the CEO post in January.

His sons have been interviewed recently and gave their two cents on how to run the company. Sadly, their ideas seem to be better than what the company is coming up with.

Hef has majority control over the company and as long as he does, they will be limited in what they can do to adapt and survive.

Posted by: dw | 2009-01-20 9:36:49 AM

I've always hated that scumbag.

Posted by: epsilon | 2009-01-20 6:50:34 PM

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