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An Interview with Tim Ozgener

C.A.O. International Inc. has now been in business for 40 years, evolving from making pipes to producing cigars.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Daniel Craig, November/December 2008

(continued from page 3)

Q: I was going to ask you that—what are the other secrets of C.A.O.'s success? A: Whatever you do, you want to improve the smoking pleasure. We did it with pipes, with better engineering. Humidors, same thing. We're doing the same thing with cigars. That means quality of the product—do we have to add more people to draw-test our cigars? How can we improve the manufacturing process? We're about to invest money to test the humidity level in each cigar. We've added Humidipaks. It also has to do with the quality of our customer service. And because I have a background in acting, the best actors listen and respond—so we try to listen and respond. Quality of the packaging. We want to be an exciting, innovative company. C.A.O. is a brand that is exciting, contemporary, innovative, yet still has its roots in what it means to make cigars. C.A.O. is a company that delivers quality, but is also fresh and innovative without losing touch with its roots. It all starts with the cigar.

Q: How have things changed since the acquisition by Henri Wintermans, and what does that mean for the future of the company? What's different now? A: As far as here, nothing has changed. They've been very hands-off with us. I'm excited about it—they're excited by the brand. They see us as this vibrant, creative company and they want to be a part of that same mojo. Wintermans is very much into inventory of tobacco, and they feel that inventory of tobacco will help deliver a consistent product. I see the future as very exciting. Wintermans, which is a division of ST Cigar Group, Scandinavian Tabak, just sold their cigarette division and now want to have more focus on the cigar industry. Hopefully, they will be investing more in the American market. For our consumers that means the quality will remain as excellent as it is now.

Q: Can you describe the relationship between C.A.O. and the Toraños? A: It started in the very beginning with my dad and Carlos Sr. We've known the Toraños for a very long time. Once the Toraños invested in a factory with the Olivas [family], based on our relationship we started getting more production from those factories. Then we saw that Charlie was stretched a bit thin. We said, "Why don't you turn your eye toward more day-to-day quality control?" When it comes to blending C.A.O., I do that, but we wanted Charlie to be focused on day-to-day quality control. Plus, once we selected a blend, he spearheads the relationship between the leaf growers and the leaf buyers and the factory. Making a cigar is not an easy thing. It's not just about making the cigars, but people trying them, getting them out there, distribution—those are big jobs in and of themselves. At C.A.O. I have to stress that we like to stress teamwork at C.A.O. We believe that the best team wins, so we try to give everybody something to focus on that's almost like a field of specialty.

Q: When did that deal take place? A: The beginning of 2008. As far as with the factory and how it's set up, there's a factory in Nicaragua and Honduras. Most of what they're producing in both factories, a large percentage is C.A.O. In Honduras, it's more tangible. One building is just C.A.O. and one is Toraño. In Nicaragua, it's one huge galleria.

Q: So they make the cigars and you sell them? Or is that too simple? A: We're very much involved in the whole process of blending. All of the blends that we come up with, we have a hand in. We're very detail oriented. The blends are taking us a longer and longer amount of time to do. It's like a concert, everybody getting together and working to deliver this blend. It's a teamwork process. We're very much into the team concept—we're inspired by that. I'm not motivated by money. I'm motivated by delivering something that brings pleasure to people. I used to do stand-up comedy because I like to hear laughter. I like making people happy. These are products that deliver moments of pleasure. That's the ultimate goal for me.

Q: Forty years ago your father started this business. Your father is retired now—you have two young sons. Do you ever look down the road and hope one day they'll follow you? A: I look upon it the same way my dad did—whatever their heart desires, whatever they want to do, I'm going to let them go down that road. I'm going to love them for whatever they want to pursue. To me, this is not work. This is fun, this is a pleasure. And that should be the same for them, whatever they desire to do. You spend most of your day doing your vocation. It should be something that you feel passionate about, and that you love. v

To go behind the scenes at C.A.O International, check out this video.


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