Q&A: An Interview With Jorge Padrón
The president of Padrón Cigars Inc. speaks about his Nicaraguan cigar brand.
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Q: How would you describe your dad's management style?
A: Very direct, not democratic, not an autocrat, he's out there on the floor. There aren't a lot of meetings, no memos; when there's a problem that needs to be resolved, he goes and does it.
Q: What's your greatest challenge, Jorge?
A: There's a lot of challenges. My goal is to make sure that this company continues in the way it has for the first 39 years that we've been in existence. My father has worked very hard to get where we are today, and I consider it a responsibility, not just on my end, but my family members as well, to uphold that tradition that's been passed down.
Q: Are you taking a more active role in the day-to-day operations of the company?
A: I'm fortunate enough to have a father who is 77 years old and is still actively involved in the business, to have someone looking over me, someone who is probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry, on both cigars and the management of people from a production standpoint. Am I taking a more active approach? Absolutely. My goal is to one day, and little by little, take some of the load off my father's back, and to help him continue what he's already begun. My responsibility is to ensure that I earn the respect of the people who are associated with this company, and that they realize that I'm going to do what's fair and what's right for the company as well as the employees.
Q: What are you doing specifically that's maybe a little different than from what you did two years ago?
A: In the cigar industry, there are many different processes that affect the overall product. Obviously, we have what we call the distribution end of it, which is in Miami, which we have been handling now for over 12 years, and I have handled personally for that amount of time, along with my brother, Orlando, and my sister Elizabeth. I have been involved in the operations in Nicaragua, but my objective now is, at some point down the road, to handle the same types of responsibilities that my dad handles now, which entails the coordination of all the employees, all the different parts of the business—the growing, the manufacturing, the sorting and deveining—just getting a firm grasp on all the different parts of the company, as well as the personnel within them.
Q: Do you ever come to Nicaragua without your father?
A: I have come here on my own; very soon I will begin to do more and more of that. The types of things that you learn here are things that you don't learn in a university or a book. The things that you learn here are things that are just day-to-day issues that you have to learn how to resolve through experience. For me, the important thing is to learn little by little, and to ensure that I know every aspect of the business.
Q: You have a number of people here in Nicaragua who have worked for your company for 10, 15, even more years. Is that more of a challenge?
A: No, no, on the contrary. The employee base that we have here is an experienced staff, both in supervisory positions as well as in day-to-day positions. Some of the rollers and bunchers have been with us for 15, 20 years, and they are the most important part of this business. Every single one of our employees has a mentality that they have to make the best products. The fact that they're experienced is something that helps me. We all are on the same page as to what we want to accomplish.
Q: When your father first started making cigars with Nicaraguan tobacco, he said he was smoking the next Cuba, something that reminded him of the H. Upmann No. 4s that he liked to smoke in Cuba. What happens to Padrón Cigars, what do you think you will do, the day there is no longer an embargo against Cuba, and Cuban tobacco and Cuban cigars are allowed to enter the United States freely?
A: There's no question in my mind what we would do. We would not abandon what we've done in Nicaragua. I think we're making products that compete in all aspects of cigars. Quality-wise, I think we're producing excellent products that can compete in any marketplace with any product from any other country, including Cuba. Having said that, though, I can't sit here and say I would ignore the possibility of going in there and having and using tobacco from Cuba, which is something I've talked about extensively with my father.
Q: As a tobacco man, do you find it intriguing, the idea of one day working with Cuban tobacco?
A: Absolutely. I would love to have the opportunity to work with Cuban tobacco that we would grow and process to our specifications, with our attention to detail, proper fertilization of the soil, proper seed selection, and doing it the way we're used to doing it here. As well as to be able to process the tobacco, because that's one of the most important parts of this business.
Q: You have three brands now—
A: We have one brand: Padrón (laughs). We have three lines.
Q: OK, one brand with three lines. Do you have any plans on the horizon to introduce something else?
A: You can never say no. There's always the possibility that we'll develop new products. But as I said earlier, we're very conservative by nature, and that's not something we do just to bring something out to the marketplace. Now next year we have our 40th anniversary; with the inventories of tobaccos we have, it's not out of the realm of possibility that we could do something if we wanted to. That's not to say that it's going to happen, but it could happen.
Q: Anniversaries are very important to your family, right?
A: Absolutely. The Padrón Anniversary came out on our 30th anniversary, my dad's 1926 came out for his 75th birthday. Now, who knows?
Photo by Angelo Cavalli