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An Interview with Carlos Fuente Sr.

A discussion with the head of Arturo Fuente Inc., one of the world's largest producers of premium hand-rolled cigars.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

(continued from page 15)

C.A.: Do you have a problem finding and training rollers? Is there much of a turnover? Is that a problem area in production because it's such a highly skilled area?

Fuente: At one time it was hard, but it isn't to us anymore. We have been training people since day one in the Dominican Republic. We've always trained people, and we have done so many things for our people that they want to work for us. We have our doctor in our place. We give our workers hospitalization even though hospitalization there is usually provided by the government. On top of that, we give our workers buses and transportation. We do so much for the people, that we don't have problems.

C.A.: Is it an hourly wage or piece work?

Fuente: It is mostly piece work.

C.A.: Cameroon tobacco is obviously critical for your cigar production. Knowing that there have been several crises in Cameroon in the last couple of years, how are you able to find and have enough Cameroon wrapper to meet your needs?

Fuente: Cameroon wrappers have been a problem in the past year, but our supplier is the Meerapfel family in Belgium. We work very closely with them and we have a very close relationship. I believe that there are only two manufacturers getting enough of the real Cameroon from Africa. And they have been able to supply us, not for all of our needs but very well. The problem is that though we are getting Cameroon, it's not all usable. So you have to sort all of the tobacco again and again, even after someone has gone to the trouble of resorting it. We still are having trouble, especially with the larger size Cameroon wrapper.

C.A.: Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Fuente: We don't sleep some nights thinking about it. We don't know what's going to happen, or what's going to be done.

C.A.: Do you have inventories for this year and next year?

Fuente: Yes. We don't know the exact amount we have for production. If you want to go by the bales we have for this year and next year, we're OK. But the problem, like I just saw last week in the Dominican Republic, is the yields from those bales. We're getting some Cameroon tobacco that we have sorted from 170-pound bales and found that only 20, 30, 40 pounds is usable. Some bales have usable tobacco up to 50 or 60 percent. But down the line, you don't know exactly how much usable tobacco you have. That's why we are so careful with production. No matter how much we have in back orders, we can just produce so much.

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