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Smoking in the Boardroom

Many corporate executives still enjoy a great cigar.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

(continued from page 5)

Some cigar-smoking executives don't even care to discuss their habit. Michel David-Weill, senior partner of Lazard Frères & Co., enjoys cigars, but a spokesperson says he doesn't feel comfortable being interviewed about smoking.

Geier speaks freely about his beloved cigars, although he doesn't smoke at home. Like many smokers, his wife does not enjoy the smell of smoke. To keep her and other "cigar widows" happy, he offers a tip: He administers a healthy dose of Polo Sport before he leaves the office. "It works," he says.

Geier has a system of vents and blowers in his office and boardroom, like many smoking executives. Steve Florio, president of The Condé Nast Publications Inc., goes even further to avoid bothering nonsmokers in his office--a habit that seems uncharacteristic of a man who has a reputation for being a tough boss. Florio has the whole range of blowers and vents in his office, but before he lights up, he closes his door and cracks a window to keep his secretary happy. He enjoys La Gloria Cubanas and Hoyo de Monterrey Excaliburs, and he smokes Cubans on special occasions.

Florio began smoking in his late 20s with his Ivy League pals. His fondest cigar memory was a night 20 years ago when his wife and best friend took him to a French restaurant in the British Virgin Islands. The meal ended with a fine cigar. "Smoking cigars has a warm, calming effect on me," he says. He saves his heavy-duty smoking for when he's out of the office, especially when he's sailing. "I always smoke when I'm out on the water."

Chrysler's Lutz had his first great cigar experience on the water, when he was in the Marine Corps stationed off the Philippines on a helicopter carrier. "A friend of mine--a fellow officer--and I used to go up onto the flight bridge after dinner and sit [watching] the sunset, smoking Alhambra Philippine cigars," he says. "I found it just an unbelievably restful, blissful experience, smoking a cigar on these very warm summer evenings, floating there off the Philippine coast, with the sun setting, with the big leather captain's chair and my feet up on the footrest tilted back, and sort of philosophizing about nothing."

Lutz comes from a long line of passionate cigar smokers. He has an oil portrait of his Swiss great-great-grandfather, posing with a cigar in his hand. Lutz's 87-year-old father gave up cigars when he turned 80, but he still buys smokes for his son. And he gets the first taste.

"He still enjoys buying cigars for me, and he does so with great love and with great pleasure. And when he gives me an unopened box, he watches me take out a cigar, cut the end, light it, then he says, 'Wait a minute, pass it over please.' He puffs and says, 'Ah! Not bad, not bad.' "

In 1966, Lutz worked in Europe for GM. While there, he began sampling Cuban cigars. He met Charlie Ritz of the Ritz Hotel chain, and the two struck up a friendship over cigars. "He used to invite me to lunch at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, and that was always accompanied by the ceremonial rolling out of the fine specimens from his private collection," Lutz says. "Charlie Ritz had this tool kit, in this little black suede leather roll. These were all special instruments that he had had made for the occasional cigar that's badly rolled and burns on one side and so forth. And he had these miniature augers, little drills and punches, and if the cigar wasn't burning on one side he would punch a little hole in that side."

Cigar smoking is a time-honored tradition at Chrysler. Historic photos of Chrysler executives show many with cigars in their hands. Lutz smokes cigars with Chrysler chairman and CEO Robert J. Eaton. Chrysler's most famous boss, the retired Lee Iacocca, also smoked fine cigars while at the company. One day, Iacocca offered one to Lutz.

"He had these green things," says Lutz. "One day he presented one to me ceremonially and said: 'Here, try one of these, Bob. These are genuine Havanas from Efrem Zimbalist Jr.' And I said wow, thanks. And I looked at it, because I had never seen that type of wrapped Cuban cigar before. So I slipped it out of the cellophane, clipped the end off and started smoking it. And it was absolutely foul. A really bad cigar." Lutz removed the band and scrutinized the writing. There he saw the words: 'Printed in USA.' "I said I don't know, Lee. This little band says: 'Printed in USA.' And he says, 'No, they're real Cubans! Zimbalist Jr., god damn it!' That was as mad as I've ever seen him get."

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