An Interview with Ernesto Perez-Carrillo

Owner, El Credito Cigar Co., makers of La Gloria Cubana, La Hoja Selecta, El Rico Habano and Dos Gonzales cigars.

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Carrillo: No, the wrapper is Connecticut shade. We use Connecticut shade wrapper for both La Hoja Selecta and Dos Gonzales.
CA: You use Ecuadoran wrapper on La Gloria Cubana and El Rico Habano. Is that because you've been working with it a long time?
Carrillo: That's it. The Ecuadoran wrapper we've been using since '68, since my father started the company in Miami. When we came out with the other two brands, La Hoja Selecta and Dos Gonzales, I wanted to use something else for people who like a Connecticut shade wrapper. It's a very good wrapper and a lot of people like that. For El Rico and La Gloria, we've been using the Ecuadoran wrapper from the beginning.
CA: If you're going to do 7 million-plus cigars in 1997, do you have a five-year plan? At what point do you reach a maximum production level, or is it a continuous growing process?
Carrillo: I said 7 million, because that's the amount of tobacco I am going to get this coming year. I'm sure that we could double that if we had the tobacco. But the situation being as it is now with tobacco that's hard to get, we really don't know how much is going to be available. For that amount of cigars, I know I'm fine.
CA: Given the pressure on shipping, from the time that you roll a cigar until you ship it, how much aging does it get?
Carrillo: In the Dominican Republic we give the cigars a minimum of 14 to 21 days before we ship.
CA: In Miami?
Carrillo: No. No.
CA: By comparison. How much?
Carrillo: In Miami, it is like two to three days. In Miami we don't really have the room to keep the cigars.
CA: What about aging the tobacco before you roll it?
Carrillo: The tobacco that we're going to start using in 1997 is from 1995 because we've been building up inventory for the past year.
CA: How many months of aging will it have?
Carrillo: It will have a minimum of about 12 months.
CA: Are you comfortable with those time frames--the 14 to 21 days after the cigar is made and the 12 months of tobacco aging? Would you like to see it aged longer?
Carrillo: If you can keep it longer, it might improve it. It takes about 15 days after a cigar is made to lose its excess humidity while keeping the humidity that it needs. I feel that after 14 to 21 days, the cigars are in good shape to be smoked. We test constantly to see if that is the right amount of time.
CA: I'm sure you are aware that more and more companies are going public as a way of raising equity capital to expand their businesses. I also guess that investment bankers knock on your door all the time. Do you plan to stay private or do you at some point plan to go public?
Carrillo: Right now, I intend to stay private and the main reason is because I like what I do. I like making my own decisions and not having to answer to anybody. I like being independent and this is one of the main reasons. You know, money, we all need money, but money is not something that really motivates me to work. I need to have this independence where I can do whatever I want to do and not worry about letting everybody know.
CA: Are any members of your family in the business?
Carrillo: My wife, Elena.
CA: And what does she do?
Carrillo: She helps run the Miami operation and the distribution.
CA: You also have a daughter, right?
Carrillo: Lissette, who is 23, goes to law school at Columbia University in New York.
CA: Have you discussed the possibility of her someday joining you?
Carrillo: We discussed it before she left for school. I think now she's changed her mind about that. She really likes law, especially tax law. So I think that's probably what she'll pursue.
CA: Do you have other children?
Carrillo: I have a son, Ernesto, who's 15.
CA: Ernesto. Does he ever work in the factories?
Carrillo: He helps out during the summer. Shipping and that type of stuff.
CA: Your father was in the business. How far back does your family go in the tobacco business?
Carrillo: Since 1907.
CA: Was that your grandfather's generation?
Carrillo: My grandfather and his brother started making cigars on the sidewalks. They had a little cigar table and they made their cigars and they sold them for a penny.
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