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Fathers and Sons, Part 1

The cigar industry owes much of its creativity and longevity to the unique partnerships between father-and-son cigarmakers
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Camilo Villegas, July/August 2006

(continued from page 2)

Each Eiroa is confident he will win the bet. "My cigar is going to be selling 90 percent, and you're going to be 10 percent," says Julio.

Despite the good-natured ribbing, each sees the value of the other in the business. "He's a hell of a salesman," says Julio of his son. "We love the business, we work hard. But I tell him, he sells the first cigar, but then the cigar has to sell itself."

Christian tries to return the favor by describing his father's dedication to the craft of farming tobacco, sharing the story of how Julio was able to grow fine leaves on a patch of rocky, desolate soil that others had abandoned.

"There's this field, this patch of land we have on the farm that basically everybody had given up on. It's a…"

Julio cuts him off. "I always say," says Julio, "you need the climate, No. 1…" Christian smiles as his dad speaks. "Let me finish," he says with a grin.


The many brands that make up the C.A.O. International Inc. portfolio are named for founder Cano A. Ozgener, whose initials grace what has become one of the more familiar cigar brands in the world. Ozgener's son, Tim, is a major contributor to the company's identity, which revolves around hip marketing and a dedication to quality. The two work well together, in a convivial attitude of good humor and respect for the other's opinion, but it's a relationship that doesn't always follow the typical father-son dynamic.

"What's fun about the relationship is it sets the whole mood for the office," says Micky Pegg, the national sales manager of C.A.O. They have "three distinctly different relationships: father-son, boss-employee and brother-brother. The energy between all those, everyone sees it." The two are an unlikely pair of cigarmakers, headquartered in an unlikely place to find a cigar company: Nashville, Tennessee. Cano is a quiet, reserved man, a former DuPont engineer who entered the tobacco business by inventing a new way to craft meerschaum pipes. Tim is an outgoing funnyman—he once was a stand-up comic—who can easily entertain a room.

"We have very different backgrounds," says the elder Ozgener, sitting at his luxurious new conference table in his recently renovated offices, which features a Zen garden used for reflection. "I am a mechanical engineer, he is an actor. He comes from an artistic background, I come from a scientific background. That's a very good mix." The 69-year-old smiles, looking like a man who is happy with his life and at ease with his surroundings, despite having recently undergone a stem-cell procedure to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which is now in remission. He is in high spirits.

Tim and his sister, Aylin (pronounced Eileen), started working with their father in a very humble way, helping out with his pipe business when he still worked full-time at DuPont. "My sister and I would come home from school, and [Dad] would say, 'Roll up your sleeves and dunk your hands in the Sweet and Clean,'" says Tim, 36, referring to a blue liquid Cano developed for cleaning pipes. Ozgener, always a pragmatist, found it much quicker to have his children dunk bottles directly into the solution rather than filling up each bottle from the tap at the bottom of the jar. The pipe business was the start of C.A.O., but it was an expansion into cigars that made the company boom. In the mid-1990s, when Tim was out in California trying to get his break in comedy, he needed a second job to pay the bills. "My dad said, 'Instead of waiting on tables, why don't you visit tobacconists?'" California was a major market, and Tim dropped in on shop owners to get feedback on the burgeoning C.A.O. cigar, at the time the company's only cigar brand.

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