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CEOs of Sex

  1. Sex Sells

    Sex Sells

    Forget gold chains and dirty raincoats. The leaders of companies that capitalize on the business of sex are, for better or worse, businesspeople like all others. Despite stigma and cultural assumptions about the industry, some leaders on our list also produce Broadway shows, own sports teams, or donate millions to family planning. From the producers of adult videos to dating sites like Ashley Madison, from Viagra to Victoria's Secret, the "sex" business incorporates a range of companies, many of which are publicly traded. (None of the companies cited here engage in illegal activities.)

    Click here to find out who are the CEOs of Sex.

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  2. Larry Flynt

    Larry Flynt

    Company: Larry Flynt Publications
    Products and services: Produces videos and magazines

    Larry Flynt is one of the most well-known adult publishers in the country, thanks to lengthy court battles—and a movie about his life starring Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, and Edward Norton—The People vs. Larry Flynt. Flynt grew up poor, started a string of strip clubs, and developed Hustler out of an early newsletter sent to customers. He capitalized on full nudity, celebrity photos, and other images that garnered press for the new magazine. In 1978 he was shot by a white supremacist outside a courthouse in Georgia, leaving him partly paralyzed. Today, privately held Larry Flynt Publications continues to be a bull in the business.

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  3. Thomas Lynch

    Thomas Lynch

    Company: Frederick's of Hollywood (FOH)
    Products and services: Lingerie

    Billed as the "original sex symbol," Frederick's of Hollywood is one of the larger producers of lingerie in the U.S. Even so, big-box stores are cutting into revenue. The company shuttered the wholesale arm of the business last year, citing the launch of a Wal-Mart brand of lingerie. CEO Thomas Lynch (not pictured above) was able to steer the company from a loss of $34 million in 2009 to a smaller loss of $21.2 million in 2010, on revenues of $133.9 million. Nonetheless, sexy lingerie may have gone mainstream enough that the big stores will have a broad effect. Lynch took home compensation of $597,700 in 2010.

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  4. Joseph "Joe" Francis

    Joseph "Joe" Francis

    Company: Mantra Films
    Products and services: Films, apparel, and television

    Once called "the new Hefner," Joe Francis is the owner and CEO of the company behind the Girls Gone Wild films. In an online bio, Francis wrote of first watching a tape of college girls flashing and realizing the financial potential: "This wasn't porn; it was something better. It was real girls. It was spontaneous. It was awesome!" Francis has turned the phenomenon into a multimillion-dollar business that includes a magazine, reality television show, and apparel. Francis struggled with legal difficulties throughout the last decade, including civil lawsuits, felony charges in Florida, and federal charges of tax evasion. Francis, above, mugs with television personalities Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian.

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  5. Marc Bell

    Marc Bell

    Companies: FriendFinder Networks and Penthouse magazine
    Products and services: Online, print, and video publishing and technology licensing

    Perhaps the most unlikely face on our list, Marc Bell is an equity guy, a trader who got into the sex industry through a bankruptcy. Marc Bell Capital Partners also produces Broadway shows and operates a real estate investment trust. "We owned Penthouse magazine as creditors in a bankruptcy," Bell says. "We decided, since we had the asset, we should do something with it. So we decided to use it as a platform to acquire other assets in the same arena." To that end, Bell purchased Various, a web company that included, for $500 million in 2007. "Adult FriendFinder is just like Facebook," Bell says. "The exception is, we don't censor what people post." Today, Bell says, the company does $350 million in revenue as a technology platform and operator of 30,000 websites, from a large Christian dating site,, to sites like Check out a recent Bloomberg Businessweek story on Bell's attempt to acquire Playboy earlier last year.

  6. Scott N. Flanders

    Scott N. Flanders

    Company: Playboy Enterprises (PLA)
    Products and services: Online, print, and video publishing, and product licensing

    In January, Playboy's founder, Hugh Hefner, put down $207 million in cash to take the company private, according to Bloomberg. Flanders will keep his role as chief executive officer, but the change will give Hefner control of a company that had steadily been losing money. Playboy's $240.4 million in revenue in 2009 came from businesses beyond the classic magazine, which grosses about $10 million each quarter. The other four arms of the company that bring in an additional $10 million each per quarter are domestic and international television, digital assets, and licensing of consumer products. Playboy has been looking to expand its branding, especially in Asia where the company recently opened a Playboy casino in Macau and is looking to get into mainland China as well. According to annual filings, Flanders has worked in a wide range of publishing ventures, from 14 years at Macmillan to three years as CEO of Freedom Communications. His compensation in 2009 was $830,769.

  7. John Stagliano

    John Stagliano

    Company: Evil Angel
    Products and services: Adult video production

    DVD sales ain't what they used to be. Stagliano says that at the peak, roughly a decade ago, his company was generating about $15 million in revenue each year, but that number dropped to about $5 million last year. That doesn't take away from the fact that John "Buttman" Stagliano is a pioneer in the industry, one of the first to use handheld video cameras in point-of-view movies, starring himself. He formed the company around his videos, then others signed on to direct, too. He's also one of the poster boys for the adult industry, having just been acquitted of obscenity charges in a two-and-a-half-year legal battle with federal prosecutors. After facing more than three decades in prison, he says the process was affirming: "I believe in my company completely."

    Evil Angel
  8. Eric Langan

    Eric Langan

    Company: Rick's Cabaret (RICK)
    Products and services: Gentlemen's clubs

    With annual revenue of $75.2 million, Rick's Cabaret is the largest publicly traded strip-club company in the U.S. One of the most profitable of the 22 clubs operated by the company is in midtown Manhattan: Rick's Cabaret NYC, named the No. 1 strip club in the city by Playboy last year. Langan, the CEO, got his start after reportedly falling in love with a stripper and then selling his baseball card collection to buy his first club. He took the company public in 1995.

    Jimmy Hahn, courtesy Rick's Cabaret International Inc.
  9. Mark Franks

    Mark Franks

    Company: Castle Megastore
    Products and services: Sells erotic toys, lingerie, and DVDs

    The Best Buy equivalent of sex stores, Castle Megastore employs more than 200 people in 17 stores. The flagship is 18,000 square feet in Phoenix. It's the modern answer to the seedy bookstore with a peep show in backrooms. "That business model is dying," says Mark Franks, CEO of the privately held company. "Nobody wants to go to those areas." Instead, Castle's are brightly lit, with helpful female employees and costumes beside sex toys. "You won't find graphic pictures of women with their breasts hanging out," says Franks. "We don't do anything in our stores that will be offensive to a female customer."

    Castle Mega Stores
  10. Serge Van Der Hooft

    Serge Van Der Hooft

    Company: Beate Uhse (USE:GR)
    Products and services: Sells erotic toys, lingerie, and DVDs

    Serge Van Der Hooft is the baby-faced 32-year-old trying to steer the decades-old German adult-products retailer as DVD sales collapse and more traditional stores move in on the so-called adult market. Since the end of 2003, the value of the company has shrunk 97 percent to just $42 million, according to Bloomberg data. Still, the company is a monster compared with anything in the U.S., with 1,301 employees and 279 shops in 11 countries. Check out a recent interview with Serge Van Der Hooft by Bloomberg News.

  11. Michael Weiner

    Michael Weiner

    Company: New Frontier Media (NOOF)
    Products and services: Per-view television, video production, and Internet sales

    The company tagline—"Publicly traded, privately watched"—says everything. The publicly traded companies on our list, like New Frontier Media, give us a window into the adult video business. Revenue for the company has been on a steady decline, down from $63 million in 2007 to $50 million in 2009. The company's annual report claims that the growing number of free content sites on the web cut into sales. For New Frontier Media, the majority of revenue is now generated through per-view television, with 52 percent of that coming from four customers: Comcast, DirecTV, Dish Network, and Time Warner Cable. New Frontier lost millions last year in the film production segment, and both Hustler TV and Playboy TV cut into the television dollars. There is one bright spot: The company continues to enjoy high profit margins, with cost of goods amounting to just $17 million in 2009.

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  12. James Craigie

    James Craigie

    Company: Church & Dwight (CHD)
    Products and services: Trojan condoms and sex toys

    The oldest and most well-known condoms in the country, Trojan, have been around since 1920. A spokesman for Church & Dwight declined to comment. The company is expanding the Trojan line with a series of vibrating products, including rings. Domestic personal care, the division that oversees Trojan, brought in $685 million in 2009. CEO James Craigie took home a salary of $868,750 in 2009, while additional benefits and compensation took the total to $4.8 million.

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  13. Berth Milton

    Berth Milton

    Company: Private Media Group (PRVT)
    Products and services: Films and magazines

    After a seven-year hiatus from the adult industry, Berth Milton recently fired the CEO of the company his father founded in 1965. The fortunes of Private Media Group have gone south as traditional modes of selling pornography—in magazines and on DVDs—have tanked. The stock price has dropped 49 percent since the beginning of 2010. Milton, however, has new directions in which to take the company. "It's the same guys in the adult industry today that were there when I started 20 years ago," Milton says. "It's the same people and they are doing the same things. They are dying with the industry." New ventures include a plan to open brothels where guests can stay for free with an agreement to be filmed. A recent Bloomberg article profiled a hotel in Prague already using the same idea. Milton also says he is in talks to bring "free video adult sites" together around an innovative idea to trade advertising on porn sites for goods that would be sold at a discount. "I think you have to invest yourself out of a crisis," Milton says. "You have to come up with something new."

    Private Media Group
  14. David Gold

    David Gold

    Company: Gold Group International
    Products and services: Lingerie, sex toys, diversified businesses

    David Gold's business fortunes followed the broad trend in the adult industry. Born into poverty in London's East End, he made his first fortune in adult magazines, but sold Gold Star Publications in 2006, as the magazine industry declined. "You can call us pornographers," Gold says. "But that's only a name. We didn't see ourselves in the area of bad pornography. We saw ourselves in the sex industry. We saw ourselves as providing a service." Gold helped along the demise of the classic sex shop by introducing women-centric adult stores, called Ann Summers. The brand grew during the 1980s through the use of parties in homes and gentler, brighter storefronts. "We had people who worked in the company that started to hold parties," Gold says. "Tupperware parties were dying. And to spice it up, they took lingerie along. Before we knew it, we had a small business that grew into a large business." Today, he says, there are 6,000 women holding regular parties and more than 150 stores. "We've always said that we are a mainstream product," he says. "That's what we said 40 years ago. We are a proper company providing a proper service."

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  15. Susan Colvin

    Susan Colvin

    Company: California Exotic Novelties
    Products and services: Sex toys

    The adult industry has long been dominated by men, but today there are companies like California Exotic Novelties, founded by a woman, with sex toys designed for women. "The only thing when I started was ivory- and black-colored items," Colvin says. "I said, 'Why don't we make it pink?' People thought I was crazy. I thought, As a female I'd really like some pretty colors in here." Colvin started the company in 1994 and built it into one of the largest manufacturers in the country, with more than 80 employees. "My company is really geared to women and couples," says Colvin. "It's relationship enhancement."

    California Exotic Novelties
  16. Troy Lowrie

    Troy Lowrie

    Company: VCG Holdings (VCGH)
    Products and services: Gentlemen's clubs

    At the end of 2009, Rick's Cabaret was in talks with the country's other publicly traded owner of gentlemen's clubs, VCG Holdings, to merge the two companies, but the talks fell through. The two companies are similar and often compete directly in various cities. VCG operates 20 nightclubs across the country. VCG's annual report states that the clubs range from type "A," which are higher-class, with high-label cigars and VIP areas, to type "C," which don't serve alcohol except in Texas, where clubs have a "bring your own bottle" format. There are 925 employees and more than 2,000 entertainers who work at the clubs, though VCG reports the entertainers actually pay the clubs to perform. VCG Holdings brought in annual revenue of $51.9 million in 2009 and CEO Troy Lowrie took home $700,000, according to Bloomberg data.

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  17. Leslie Wexner

    Leslie Wexner

    Company: Limited Brands (LTD)
    Products and services: Victoria's Secret lingerie

    Sexy sells in a big way for Victoria's Secret. As of Jan. 31, there were 1,028 Victoria's Secret retail stores across the country that tallied net sales of $1.39 billion last quarter. Leslie Wexner, 73, is a Columbus (Ohio) billionaire who built Limited Brands from scratch. With his wealth, he has built one of the world's largest private art collections and owns what was once the longest private yacht on the planet, the Limitless.

  18. Noel Biderman

    Noel Biderman

    Company: Avid Life Media
    Products and services: Dating websites

    A private company based in Toronto, Avid Life is the umbrella company for a group of websites that work as the social networks of sex. One site,, is advertised as "the world's leading infidelity service for married people looking for something more." Other sites include Hot or Not, a rating site where you can rate people and then hook up for dates. The mission of the sites is summed up on the Avid Life website: "To hook up like-minded individuals who share the same passions and desires; regardless of their lifestyle preferences." According to company projections, Avid Life is expected to have revenue of $60 million this year, with profit of $20 million. Almost all of that comes from, which the company reports has 8.5 million members.
    Finn O'Hara