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Cuba's New Cigar Chief

The Spanish co-head of Habanos tries to strike the right balance between tradition and modernization
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Vegas, Mar/Apr 2006

Buenaventura Jiménez Sanchez-Cañete, 47, has been the new co-head of Habanos S.A., the global distribution and marketing organization for Cuban cigars, for a little over half a year now. The Spaniard exudes the excitement and optimism that comes with a new job.

Originally from Granada, Sanchez-Cañete has spent most of his adult life working for the Spanish tobacco giant Tabacalera S.A., which in 1999 merged with the French tobacco multinational Seita to form Altadis S.A. He has done everything from manage machine-made cigar factories to coordinate the distribution of tobacco products throughout Spain. A warm and gentle man, he lives in Havana with his Spanish wife, and enjoys hiking and motorcycling as well as everything the Cuban capital has to offer in the way of culture and entertainment. However, after spending 10 to 12 hours a day in the office, he rarely has free time. His co-workers-both Cuban and Spanish-speak fondly of the man, who is clearly a team leader and an excellent motivator. I met with him in Havana in November to discuss the future of the Cuban cigar. The interview was conducted in Spanish.

James Suckling: The word on the street is that you are very knowledgeable about cigars. How did you learn about the business?

Buenaventura Jiménez Sanchez-Cañete: I can assure you that I am passionate about the tobacco world, but to say that I know it all would be wrong. I think you can spend years doing this, and every time you talk to somebody you discover new things. Of course, I have the knowledge that having worked in this sector has given me. However, this cigar world is so rich and big that you are discovering new things all the time.

JS: Now that former co-head Fernando Dominguez Valdés Hevia has left, what do you think you can bring to Habanos? Your philosophy is different from his.

BJSC: No. The first thing I would say would be that Fernando has made a vast contribution to Habanos's operation together with [co-head Oscar] Basulto and the rest of the team.

JS: And Fernando did a lot in a short time, too.

BJSC: I believe that it would be stupid on my part to try to do something different because I have only been here five months. I have seen the strategy that is being followed. This company, Habanos, as a trading company, sells premium cigar brands that are renowned worldwide. I believe in the sales strategy that is in place.

There are actually two strategies-one that looks ahead and the second that looks back. The main purpose of this second one is to get the industry to improve on the quality of the finished product. The industry has a lot to do, but I would say that the most important issue is to improve on the quality. We are selling a premium product and every single worker in the factory should be aware of this. There is a lot to be done in this sense, to preserve and improve the quality of the product.

JS: Are your sales steady? Some say around 150 million to 160 million Cuban cigars are being sold worldwide.

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