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
(continued from page 17)
CA: Your father and your family have endured a number of setbacks through the years: fires that have destroyed warehouses and entire cigar factories, the lawsuit; there are other things, too. How difficult were those challenges to your company, and do you feel that you've finally entered the golden age of the Fuente family?
Fuente:I feel now that I'm on top of the world. But I think that it's going to be more and more difficult for us as each day goes by. One thing that all these obstacles has given us is that they have brought my family even closer together. And that's the reason why I would like to see our future focused on what we have, and try to improve what we have in any way we can.
If I look back to my younger days, my life was cigars; no, first God, then cigars, then family, then our customers. And one thing that a lot of these painful situations has taught me--maybe it's the age I'm getting into--is that I see that family is more important than ever. It's always been family, but I see now it's God, family, then cigars, then our customers. I would like to see my father being able to spend more time with all of us--with my sister, with my brother, Richard, with myself, with my mother, Anna--and not working 18 hours a day like he does. And the same with my sister and my brother-in-law; it's day and night; it has been so for a long time. It's almost unfair, because to try to achieve what our customers want and give them as many Arturo Fuente cigars as they want, it's going to reach the point that it's not humanly possible.
CA: Do you and your family talk about the day the trade embargo against Cuba ends, and what that might mean to your business? After all, you not only have deep roots in the Dominican Republic, but you have historical ties to Cuba.
Fuente:We all have very strong emotional ties to Cuba. We always will have emotional ties to Cuba. When I was born and then raised in Tampa, I didn't speak English until I started first grade. My heritage is Cuban; I'm very proud to be a Cuban-American. When I was growing up, the conversation in my home was always that when there was an opportunity to go back to Cuba, we would visit and so forth. But life changes, and it changes for a reason. I don't think that we should never look back, but you should only look back to learn.
I would like to go back to Cuba one day, be able to visit Cuba, and meet the great cigarmakers of Cuba and the great tobacco growers and hug them. Hug them out of respect for what they achieved for tobacco and be able to enjoy a cigar with them--but not necessarily to open a factory. I believe my responsibility is to the Dominican Republic and to our customers. I have a great love for the Dominican Republic and that is where my heart is.
CA: Would you buy Cuban tobacco and produce the cigars in the Dominican Republic?
Fuente:I hope the day when the embargo's lifted that there will be tobacco available. Tobacco can once again be great in Cuba, and it would be very, very interesting to have Cuban tobacco available to blend for our cigars.
CA: Given your earlier answers about the lawsuit, I can't keep from going back to it before ending our interview. What did you learn from somebody coming and trying to take away part of your business by virtue of a lawsuit?
Fuente:I was definitely consumed emotionally. This was about the Fuente Fuente OpusX, the culmination of all my dreams. I think it would be any cigarmaker's dream to achieve something that has never been achieved before and to really offer something very special to their customers. Our family honor was challenged. It wasn't about a cigar, it wasn't about the name of a cigar; it was our family's honor and our family's integrity. One thing that I learned from this--and I like to look at the positive side--during this very, very difficult time, I started to realize how important it was to us to dedicate our lives to continuing to make great cigars.
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