An Interview With Guillermo León
President, León Jimenes Cigars
From the Print Edition:
Chuck Norris, Jul/Aug 98
Guillermo León brings a lifetime involvement to the cigar business. His family traces its tobacco industry roots back to León's great-grandfather, but family lore has it that León tobacco farming goes back several generations more. Today, the family has business interests in the Dominican Republic in everything from El Presidente beer to Marlboro cigarettes to Aurora and León Jimenes cigars.
In the early 1990s, cigars were a secondary business for the León family. With the beginning of the cigar boom in the United States, Guillermo León in 1993 was named executive vice president of La Aurora S.A., charged with developing the U.S. market for the brands. He became an avid booster of the Dominican Republic's cigars, and is a stalwart member of ProCigar, the Dominican cigar association.
Today, León divides his time between the company's factory in Santiago and his market in the United States. He is overseeing an expansion at the factory, and hopes to increase production once the current glut in the U.S. market has ended. León recently met with Gordon Mott, the managing editor of Cigar Aficionado, to talk about his family's businesses, León Jimenes cigars and his plans for the future.
CIGAR AFICIONADO: Guillermo, tell us about your family's history in the cigar business.
León: I have told this story so many times that I think I know it by heart. The factory was started in 1903. It was founded by my grandfather, Eduardo León Jimenes. He was a young man in his twenties.
CA: Was he a native of the Dominican Republic?
León: Yes, he was born in the Dominican Republic. He founded the cigar company because his father grew tobacco. My grandfather did the same work as his father, so he founded the cigar company with the family's own tobacco. We can't really tell you how many generations back the involvement with tobacco goes before my great-grandfather. But we know they were involved in the growing of tobacco. W e suppose that there have been more. We can't verify it.
CA: Were they landowners?
León: Yes, they harvested tobacco from their own land. They already had the tobacco, so my grandfather founded the cigar company with three rollers. That was in Guazumal, a small town between Tamboril and Santiago. It was a very small town. My grandfather started with the three rollers, and he started adding on. It began to grow. But he had problems supplying the product to other cities. To get to those markets, they had to carry the cigars on donkeys. So, he moved to the bigger city of Santiago in the 1930s, because it was simply more convenient. By then, the company was solvent and he was a cigar man.
CA: What was he producing at this time, was it cigarettes?
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