Lorna Donohoe, the Irish woman at the helm of Playboy Enterprises, talks to MOLLY MULDOON about her hectic work schedule, life in LA and working for such an iconic global brand.
When Lorna Donohoe arrived in New York City in 1997, it was supposed to be a temporary move. After studying abroad in Germany, the Dubliner decided to head to the Big Apple for a change of scene.
“I had rented a room from two Irish girls that I knew from Dublin. When I got there it was a walk in wardrobe with a futon,” recalls Donohoe. “It was creative use space!”
On a Friday afternoon from her Los Angeles- based Playboy Enterprises office, the Irish woman clearly remembers arriving in New York almost 15 years ago.
“My earliest memory is the ride from JFK to Manhattan. I remember thinking it was very gritty and very loud, lots of sirens and graffiti and so many tall buildings,” she says.
“I couldn’t see any green, it was like a sea of concrete and a little overwhelming at first,” she told the Irish Voice.
Those formative years of New York living gave Donohoe a hunger for the corporate world, after she secured a job with the global publishing powerhouse Condé Nast, which owns Vogue, Vanity Fair and a number of other top publications.
“At the time I didn’t realize what I had pulled off. I didn’t realize they had all these publications,” she reflected.
In her early twenties Donohoe found herself working as an assistant to the company’s CEO Steve Florio, who oversaw the publication Vogue, Vanity Fair, Condé Nast Traveler; Wired and The New Yorker.
“I really went through the whole process with him. I shadowed him everywhere and I literally worked from 6 a.m. until two or three in the morning sometimes,” Donohoe recalls.
On any given day the Dublin woman, originally from Crumlin, would be rubbing shoulders with top models such as Naomi Campbell or Claudia Schiffer in the office, as well as taking meetings with renowned fashion designers such as Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, a time she describes as a “huge learning experience.”
Thrust into the dynamic work of publishing, Donohoe acknowledges her Irish charm was an asset from the outset.
“I do think a lot of things about being Irish really helped me,” she said. “I wasn’t afraid of hard work.
“Irish people have a disposition that they can get along with everybody.
“We have a certain sense of humor that defuses stressful situations. Being Irish has given me a skill set in that area.”
With fond memories, Donohoe recalls her early years in the U.S. when she and her friends took New York by storm.
“All of us got really cool jobs; there was a little band of us,” she says.
“I got amazing access to parties and events. My boss gave me tickets and would say, ‘Go take your friends.’
“We were completely broke and not earning anything,” says Donohoe.
“When I look back now we didn’t even make the rent sometimes. I lived in the Meatpacking District before it was trendy!”
After spending four years with Condé Nast, Donohoe snapped up a job working with the publicity department of Playboy Enterprises in New York before she began to quickly climb the corporate ladder.
Donohoe’s strong work ethic and savvy nature paid dividends. She describes her present role as senior vice president of global strategic marketing with Playboy Enterprises as an “ultimate high.”
“This is the culmination of all the work that I have done and the future is really bright for our company,” said Donohoe. “We are experiencing an exciting transformation.
“We work on such a wide breadth of projects across so many different countries and areas.
“I have the privilege of meeting and working with amazing, really interesting people across all walks of life -- from great writers and artists to great musicians and models,” she said.
She describes the famous Playboy Mansion as an “oasis hidden in the middle of LA,” and admits it was much more than she expected.
“It is beautifully landscaped and there is a small zoo with exotic birds and animals and of course lots of rabbits. Parts of it are very serene,” she shares.
As for the leading man and architect of the Playboy empire, she describes Hugh Hefner as inspiring.“It is not just what he created but how progressive he is. He changed history when he started Playboy magazine,” Donohoe says.
Regularly traveling back to Ireland for family visits, Donohoe is no stranger to Ireland’s economic challenges. She tells the Irish Voice that not a day goes by that she doesn’t receive an email from someone in Ireland looking to intern or asking for advice.
“We lost a lot of our personality in the gold rush,” says Donohoe, who still believes Ireland’s future is bright.
“I think it is in our disposition to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. We have been through this before,” she reflected.
Advice for newcomers to the U.S., Donohoe says it’s important to treat everyone with the same level of respect.
“When I was working at the bottom I learned that you need to treat everybody very well.
“I know a lot of people who I started out with at the bottom and are now running major brands.”
But most of all, testament to her own career success, Donohoe says a good work ethic is vital.
“I really think that America is a country where you are rewarded for working hard,” she reflects.
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