When Lorna Donohoe arrived in the U.S. 15 years ago, she never expected to end up working as the senior vice-president of global strategic marketing for Playboy.
When the Dublin woman left Ireland in the 1990s, there were very few opportunities.
“There were no jobs, well a couple of government jobs, but that was it,” the Clondalkin girl told the Irish Times.
After finishing secondary school, the Dubliner enrolled in a business and language course in the Dublin Institute of Technology. As part of her studies she studied abroad for a year in Germany and decided to apply for a green card.
“I applied for a US green card. When I got it, I thought ‘I’ll go for six months and come back and finish school.'”
With an interest in writing she sent a resume to the New York based publisher Condé Nast.
“I got called for interview to be a temp and was asked if wanted to temp in the chief executive’s office,” says Donohoe. “I went to meet him and he hired me full-time. That was kind of my first job in the US so it was totally landing on my feet.”
The chief executive was Stevo Florio who was responsible for such well known titles as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Condé Nast Traveller, Wired and the New Yorker.
“I was at the bottom, but at the top,” Donohoe recalls.
“I worked there at the same time that the lady wrote the book (The Devil wear Prada) – I can beat all her stories!” she says. “The office was exactly like it was in the movie. I think people were very surprised that I had been hired. Usually when you get those positions, you’re related to someone or you’re part of New York society.”
In no time Donohoe was settling well into New York existence.
“I loved it. It was right at the time of Sex and the City and women were really coming into their own in the workplace. All the things you see on TV were true and I was living them.”
After four years with Condé Nast, a friend suggested she apply for a PR opening with Playboy. “I thought, why not? I’ll go along and see what they have to say.”
Nabbing the job was no problem to the energetic enthusiastic Irish woman, who’s first role in the empire was in publicity for the magazine, which she describes as “the engine of the brand."
“Cindy Crawford was one of the first people I worked with. She was so humble and lovely – we’d be on set and she’d be making sure I had water. When you work with the more A-list celebrities, most of them who are at the top of their game are really warm and not demanding at all.”
Moving up in the firm, her role evolved into press relations for the company’s product licencing side of the operation. Fluent in German, she was posted there and tasked with establishing the European business.
Here she capitalized on the company’s brand name and rabbit-head logo, “licensing is now probably the biggest revenue generator in the company” says Donohue. The licensed products now generate more than $900 million in retail sales in 150 countries.
The Dublin woman describes Playboy business culture as “very progressive."
“The number of senior female executives is one of the highest of any public company. You get promoted on merit not on tenure so there’s no old boys’ club. There are no boundaries.”
She describes Hugh Hefner, the founder of the empire as “funny, witty and intelligent . . . he makes you feel like you are the only person in the room”.
Though now based in Los Angeles, Donohoe says Ireland will always be home.
“I love my job. I work hard, but it’s a dream job. I won’t say I would do it for free in case my boss sees this, but it’s pretty great.”
The history behind “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”