Carlos Fuente Jr. has become one of the most recognizable people in the cigar business. While at the helm of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., he has seen the company rise to one of the preeminent positions in the industry.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98
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CA: Though the office was small, the factory wasn't so small. So what do you make in Factory No. 3?
Fuente:Factory No. 3 [in Santiago] makes some Cuesta-Rey and some Arturo Fuentes with Connecticut shade, some Ashton and Bauza.
CA: What about Factory No. 4?
Fuente:Factory No. 4 [in Santiago] is making Sosa, Bauza and Montesino. There's some Montesino made at Factory No. 3, where my father is spending a lot of time. And, some of the new belicoso shapes that we are doing, like the Montesino Aged Cabinet Reserve, are being made at Factory No. 1.
CA: You've lived through a pretty crazy period in the cigar industry there in Santiago. I've heard reports that more than 100 cigar factories opened between 1994 and 1997, and the owners of those start-ups raided the traditional companies like Fuente for skilled laborers, especially rollers. But a lot of those factories are closing now. Can you describe what it was like to lose so many employees you had trained, and whether or not you are welcoming the workers back?
Fuente:It was a very difficult time.
CA: You basically trained the rollers for these new factories.
Fuente:I believe there's no one in the world in modern cigar history who's trained as many people as Tabacalera A. Fuente. We trained the people. They were an extension of our family, they were part of us, and all of a sudden, they were being approached with incredible bonuses, offered vehicles and housing. That's simply incredible. People came in to steal them away all the time, and that's when my father said the scene reminded him of when he used to watch the old cowboy movies with the California Gold Rush. The cigar business became like the Gold Rush.
It was very difficult to [comprehend] the drastic change in the industry because it happened so fast. Before that, one factory respected the other factories because everyone realized the difficulty that it took to train someone. And every cigarmaker's different. The way Fuente trains a cigarmaker is different than the way another factory would train a cigarmaker.
CA: My understanding was it wasn't the traditional factory owners stealing from each other; it was the new boys: they built a factory, or started one up, and they needed the workers to roll cigars.
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