Fuente's Right Hand Man
Wayne Suarez is the strong and quiet force behind the scenes at Arturo Fuente, the world's largest family-owned cigar brand.
From the Print Edition:
George Lopez, January/February 2010
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Fuente is a huge cigar company, but it operates like a small business. Little happens that Carlos Fuente Sr. doesn't know about and he knew that the factory didn't have Hemingways that were six months old. He wanted to know what happened, so Suarez took the blame.
"We drove home together that night and I felt it was over. He said, 'Let's stop and have a beer.'" Suarez pulled up to one of the roadside stands that seem to be everywhere in Santiago, where icy cold Presidente is always available, and left the truck running, thinking he would grab brews for the road. Fuente Sr. told him to turn the Jeep off—Suarez knew it wasn't over.
His father-in-law wanted to know why he ordered the Hemingways shipped early. Suarez explained himself, going through the logic, noting that by the time a consumer smoked one it would be well over six months old. "He said, 'OK, I see your point—but that's not the way we do things. If you do it in five months, three weeks, then maybe next time it's five months and two weeks.' " Eventually, the patriarch told his son-in-law, you get away from what I want.
Message received. "I learned a valuable lesson," says Suarez. "I would never pull the trigger early again." Suarez, a man who is far more comfortable complimenting others than he is talking about his own experiences or talents, repeatedly calls Fuente Sr. "the greatest man I know." Speaking about the father-and-son team behind the Fuente brands, Suarez says: "They make great cigars. I don't think there's anybody who makes better cigars than Carlos Fuente Sr. and Carlos Fuente Jr."
It's unsurprising that Suarez found a home with the Fuentes, who are known for attention to detail. A bit of a neat freak, Suarez once owned a car detailing service. He tried a stint in the restaurant business, then went back to car detailing before moving into the cigar business.
Cleanliness is important to Suarez and he finds it important to cigars as well. A cigar, of course, ultimately ends up in a consumer's mouth. "You go into some cigar shops and the humidors are immaculate and clean," he says. "That's important."
Suarez also finds importance in hard work, pointing to the example of his hardworking mother and the legendary work habits of Fuente Sr. "Hands down, there is no man I know who works harder than Carlos Sr.," he says. He also works hard himself. In a family business—even one as large as Fuente—when there's a job to do it means people pitch in.
"We just do whatever it takes. I travel with the salesmen, work the market, do events, whatever it takes to get the job done," says Suarez.
Today, Suarez spends much of his time in Fuente's U.S. headquarters in Tampa, Florida. His office is in the same building as the J.C. Newman Cigar Co.—the Newmans and Fuentes are partners. If he's not there, he's likely on the road at a cigar event, or in the Dominican Republic doing whatever needs to be done at the heart of Fuente's cigar production. It's something he envisions will not go away.
"I think there will always be a cigar business," he says. "I don't think the future is as bleak as some people think."
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