A Conversation with the Padróns

José Orlando Padrón, Chairman Jorge Padrón, President

(continued from page 1)
Q: I bet your father is a pretty tough judge of cigars.
Jorge Padrón: Listen, my dad is a lover of cigars. So if someone gives him a cigar that he likes, he'll tell him. He doesn't smoke other people's cigars, but if someone gives him one he'll smoke it out of respect. He's very honest. He doesn't play games.
Q: What is the philosophy of Padrón Cigars?
Jorge Padrón: It's simple. It's making a consistent commitment to making the best quality products available. Never compromising. We're not afraid to cut back production if we don't have the tobacco we need. This is not a numbers company. This is a company that produces quality. During the Civil War when we didn't have access to tobacco, he went from 6 million cigars in 1980 to 2 million in 1985. In today's business world, a person like my father, he would be fired. People would try to substitute. You can't get tobacco from Nicaragua? Get it from the Dominican Republic. If he had done that, he would have ruined the brand. My dad was very clear and he was a visionary from my standpoint. That was a very difficult time. Imagine, you're selling 6 million cigars a year and then you're down to 2 million?
Q: It would be disastrous for many companies.
Jorge Padrón: We've been very careful with how we grow our company. We're very conservative, very lean, vertically integrated.
Q: There's a lot of pressure today for companies to come out with new products. You don't go that route. Why?
Jorge Padrón: We're not about to try to reinvent the wheel. At the end of the day we have a very loyal customer. If it's not broke, why fix it? Obviously the markets change, and as a company we have to be prepared to understand the market and the consumers, and we have to adapt, and that's what we've done. When we started selling cigars at the national level in 1993, a lot of people thought our cigars were too strong. Most of the cigars that were being sold were much lighter in flavor. Our cigar, with a sun-grown wrapper, there were very few of them at the time. It's funny, because over time that has changed. Now you have a lot of consumers who are willing to experiment. Back then, it wasn't like that.
Q: Earlier today we looked at new construction near your main operations here in Estelí. You're making warehouses and might even be building a new cigar factory where you're considering making cigars under a name other than Padrón. Doesn't that run counter to your philosophy on making cigars?
Jorge Padrón: The biggest thing we've always said is it's difficult to make more than one brand in one factory. To this day, we really only have one brand with three lines in it. We also have a very controlled production-with the expansion, not only is it going to be for production, it will help us sort more tobacco. The No. 1 reason is to have storage space for tobacco and to build another factory. There, we'll be able to make new brands of cigars.
Q: A factory that will be separate?
Jorge Padrón: That will be separate from Padrón.
Q: What about the brand name José Piedra that you own? You once made cigars under that name.
Jorge Padrón: We haven't done anything with José Piedra. That's in a holding pattern right now.
Q: What's the first thing you would do if the Cuban embargo is lifted?
Jorge Padrón: I don't know. So many things have to happen for that to occur. It's hard to say. Obviously, a company like ours, with our history and tradition, we would certainly be very interested in going in and investigating the opportunities. But it would have to happen on our terms. We're not going to run. We're going to do it right. We're going to do things the way we're used to doing them, one step at a time. We've worked too hard to build this brand to blow it.
Q: Have you ever tasted the combination of your tobacco and Cuban tobacco?
Jorge Padrón: Never.
Q: How do you think it would taste?
Jorge Padrón: In my opinion, our cigars compete with Cuban cigars. You have great Cuban tobacco and you have bad Cuban
tobacco, just like you have great Nicaraguan tobacco and bad Nicaraguan tobacco. The important thing is to get the right tobacco.
Q: You don't have an aging room in your factory. Most people make cigars, put them in an aging room, let them sit for a month or so. You guys don't do that.
Jorge Padrón: We don't have an aging room. The consumer makes the final call. I don't expect a consumer to spend $15 on a cigar and have to sit on it for two years. My job is to sit on the tobacco for 10 years or five years, your job is to smoke it as soon as you want to smoke it. What's the point? That's like buying a BMW motorcycle and you have to keep it in your garage for two years before you can ride it. What's the point? These are not inexpensive cigars—they're worth the price, and there's a lot of effort put into the cigars to make them worth that price.
Q: You have a great deal of tobacco in storage.
Jorge Padrón: We have over 150,000 square feet of warehouse space. This allows us more space to accommodate tobacco. We like to stockpile tobacco to ferment. For us, you can never have too much tobacco. We have enough tobacco for four or five years of production at any given time. Tobacco can be great in the field and you can screw it up in the barn. There are myriad problems you can have.
Q: Does tobacco ever come in and you realize this just won't work? I can't use it to make cigars?
Jorge Padrón: We've had tobacco from certain farms that we have turned into scrap and used as fertilizer. I'm not talking about the whole crop-I might be talking about a priming, or a specific plot, where we say we're never going to use this. We're better off using this as picadura [short-filler tobacco] or fertilizer. The way we ferment our tobacco, the tobacco suffers a lot. You end up breaking a lot of leaves. And sometimes we even have pilones [tobacco stacks] that rot because of over fermentation. My dad says that's the cost of doing business. He'd rather lose a pilon because he over ferments than to put one through that he under ferments. He's not afraid. He knows. Part of fermenting tobacco the right way is, inevitably, you're going to have some times where you might take one too far and you lose it.
Q: The fermentation, that's where the real magic happens with Padrón cigars, right?
Jorge Padrón: You have to know when to say when.
Q: When is the right time?
Jorge Padrón: I can't tell you that. (laughs)
Q: We were smoking cigars before that were made by one of your finest cigar rollers. You and your father had pulled them from production, because you felt something was just a little off, and you thought it was due to stress he was going through. How is it possible to manage a company where all of your products are made by hand, and therefore vulnerable to the many things that can affect human production?
Jorge Padrón:
When you make the number of cigars that we make every day you have to deal with some of these issues. We have very strict quality control steps to make sure we catch those problems. My philosophy on this is when a consumer goes to buy a box of Padróns he can feel confident to pick up the first one he grabs. If we were making 20 million cigars a year, that would be much more difficult to control. We have a family in Miami that runs the business, and we also have a family here that helps us run the business. When you sit down and look at our labor pool, there are many who are related—brothers, sisters, nephews, husbands and wives-being able to understand how important that relationship is to us allows us to maintain consistency in the brand. To have a person work for you for 30 years says something. We're hands-on. We know the names of most of our employees. We deal with them on a regular basis. We're out there walking around. It's a very open relationship.
José Orlando Padrón: One guy makes the Padrón Serie 1926 80 Years and the Family Reserve 44s. He had a problem. The cigars were too tight. I stopped production. We can't risk that.
Q: Why does Padrón Cigars, make only five million cigars a year?
José Orlando Padrón: That way I can maintain quality and not rush the tobacco. Here we have 500,000 pounds of tobacco. The important thing of a brand is consistency. You have to have some reserve. When you start getting above that, it's hard to maintain the blend. It's not about quantity, it's about having control.
Q: Jorge, what have you learned from your father about making great cigars?
Jorge Padrón: When I look at my father, it's a combination of things. It's not just about making cigars. It's about how you treat people, it's about showing loyalty to your employees, which your employees always will return to you. And that's what I see evident in Padrón Cigars. My father has stuck to his philosophy from day one, making the best cigars possible, and the only way that can be accomplished is if everyone is on the same page. The attention to detail and the attention to quality starts with the philosophy my father has put forward, but it's actually executed by the people that we employ. He constantly reminds me that we have our family in Miami, and we have our family in Nicaragua. He really considers those people family.
Q: How big is that family in Nicaragua?
Jorge Padrón: We have close to 400 employees in the factory, and during the growing season that number jumps to 800, 900 people. It's incredible when you look at our employees in Nicaragua how many of them are actually second and third generation employees of Padrón Cigars, or Tabacos Cubanica, which is our manufacturing company in Nicaragua. Of his first four original employees when he started in Nicaragua in 1970, two still work in the company. To me, that's mind-boggling.
Q: You were part of your family's business from an early age. Did you always know you would be part of the business?
Jorge Padrón: All of us have worked in the family business. My brother Orlando has worked in this business since he was a young teenager, my sister Elizabeth, my sister Lissette, and my cousins. My father has never been someone who has forced us to work in the family business. When you come to Padrón Cigars you can tell everyone is there because that's what they want to do. Was I raised around it my entire life? Absolutely. Was I forced to smoke a cigar or start working in the business? Absolutely not. The choice was mine. And I will do the same thing with my children.
Brian Emerson El Paso, Texas, USA, November 28, 2010 7:50pm ET
The Padrons...Truely a class act!
Robert Martin Flushing, New York, Queens, September 30, 2011 6:05pm ET
i agree, a true classic cigar.. that's top shelf.

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