An Interview With Ashton's Robert Levin
Best known for creating Ashton, Robert Levin is a 30-year veteran of the cigar business.
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, July/Aug 03
(continued from page 4)
Q: Tell us about your business relationship with the Fuentes.
A: In 1992, Ashton was becoming fairly successful. I wanted the Fuentes to make them, and they wanted to have an interest in Ashton. So they became partners in Ashton.
Q: They became a minority owner of the Asthon brand?
A: Yes. And it's been a great partnership.
Q: What happened when you took your company public?
A: We put everything together under Holt's Cigar Holdings; then they became a partner in everything, because we had to put all the companies [the wholesale, mail-order and retail business] together.
Q: What percentage do they own?
A: Now they own 35 percent of the company.
Q: Do you own any part of Tabacalera A. Fuente?
Q: Tell me about going public.
A: I got caught up in the frenzy, and at the time the reason behind going public was to get the capital to make acquisitions and to grow. And a lot of the European companies came in and were paying outrageous dollars, and killed those plans. When they came in, they were paying 10 times what I thought certain companies were worth. We couldn't participate in that game, and we didn't.
Q: Looking back, was going public a good decision?
A: It was a learning experience for me. In hindsight, my personality did not go well with being a public company. I wasn't very fond of the quarterly reports, and a lot of things you have to go through to be a public company, You had to do a lot of things that I just didn't like doing. It puts undue pressure on you to try to do better every quarter. Long-range plans didn't really mean anything.
Q: Does the cigar business lend itself to being public?
A: I don't think so. Anything to do with tobacco does not lend itself to being a public company -- the cigar business especially. The cigar business is a small business, and it's a slow growing process. Unless you make an acquisition, you're not going to make huge jumps in growth these days. And in this environment, it's going to be very hard to grow at all. But you work and you do your best, and you'll grow. I didn't enjoy being head of a public company. It's very nice being private again. But it was an experience.
Q: Were you a target?
A: I had some inquiries, but I never pursued them, and I don't know how serious they were. Because of the Fuente involvementÖ
Q: Did that eliminate some potential suitors right off the top?
A: Oh, I'm sure it did. But I'm not sure anybody was that serious.
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