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Interview: Francisco Padron, Cubatabaco

Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Groucho Marx, Spring 93

Francisco Padron, 52, triumphantly stood at the podium in the centuries-old Palace of the Captains General in Havana and described to dozens of diplomats, journalists and cigar industry members from around the world how Cohiba became a symbol of the best from Cuba.

His face was difficult to see through the haze of fresh Cohiba smoke, but you couldn't help noticing his slightly satisfied smile as he announced the introduction of five new sizes in the Cohiba range. Not only had he been at the cutting edge of developing the new cigars, Padron had been the impetus behind establishing Cohiba as the world's most prestigious cigar brand.

Padron began in 1985 as director of Cuba's cigar export sales organization, Cubatabaco, after preparing an extensive study on the tobacco industry for the foreign trade minister. "There were so many things to change," he said, looking back eight years. "There was such great potential. We just needed to sell more."

Increasing sales was not the only strategy Padron used. He set out on a well-focused plan to take control of his worldwide distribution through establishing partnerships with his agents in key markets. Having now achieved his goal, Padron is looking toward the future with great anticipation.

CIGAR AFICIONADO Editor and Publisher Marvin R. Shanken met with Padron in November 1992, in Havana, to discuss the Cuban cigar industry and Padron's plans for the future.

CIGAR AFICIONADO: Connoisseurs the world over appreciate Cuban cigars. During the past several years, you've had serious business difficulties with Davidoff which have resulted in the end of your relations with the Swiss company and the discontinuation of Davidoff cigar production in Cuba. Is there confusion in the international marketplace caused by the Davidoff situation?
Francisco Padron: None at all. Let me tell you something. We made an agreement with Davidoff. We think that it [canceling production] is a very good agreement. We signed the agreement, and we must not talk about it.

CA: What is the future strategy for Cuban cigars?
Padron: We want to have Habano cigar, not a brand name. It doesn't matter if it is Bolivar, Montecristo or even Cohiba. For the last four years, we have been telling the connoisseur how to recognize a Havana. When we launched the smoke ad we just put Havana, now Habanos. We think the most important thing is the umbrella that can cover all the brand names. We can create a brand name whenever we want.

CA: I think that a connoisseur understands that Cuba is a statement of origin and quality but he typically buys brands. Once he buys a brand, then he buys sizes in a brand. He is very brand loyal. He smokes Cohiba. He knows that Cohiba has a certain taste and style and so forth. You speak of this marketing of Habanos, but isn't there a strategy to promote individual brands?
Padron: We have two strategies. One is the institutional campaign I just described, and the second one is the brand campaign.

CA: Which do you feel is more important?
Padron: We at Cubatabaco are in charge of both of them. We deal with the institutional, and we let our enterprises [agents] around the world, in agreement with us, work on brand campaigns. For example, what does Fonseca mean to you?

CA: It is well known as a highly respected Port wine.
Padron: Yes. But in Barcelona it is a wonderful brand name for Cuban cigars. We sell almost three million cigars. So that is why we let our agent analyze the best way to promote the Fonseca brand in Spain.

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