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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 5)

"We were having dinner in Boca Raton, and it was with my wife and my mother, and my wife didn't even know I was going to make this statement," says Charlie, 38, a taller, slimmer version of his father with a slight goatee and longish hair. "I said, 'Dad, is there room for me at the company?' And he said, 'There's not room, there's a need.'"

Charlie closed his law books and joined the family business. (But not before having a fight with his wife, who didn't know he was going to make his dinner statement.) The cigar business has changed Charlie. "Most lawyers are encased in four walls. Doing a lot of reading, a lot of writing…you don't travel much, you don't see the world, and you tend to see more problems than opportunities," he says. "It took me a few years to make a bit of the transition of just looking at the pitfalls."

Getting used to the cigarmaker tradition of doing business with a handshake didn't sit well with him. "We do so much on a handshake, the lawyer part of me doesn't sleep sometimes," he says. His father, who wears a broad smile like a comfortable T-shirt, chuckles as he listens.

It's evident that Charlie doesn't miss wearing suits or staring at four walls. He now wears open-collared shirts and travels frequently to his company's factories. What he treasures most is the additional time he now spends with his dad.

"In many ways I was seeing a lot less of Dad in the years leading up to when I started working here," he says. "It's been a thrill ride, to be honest with you, both enjoying the tobacco business but also just working with Dad. As close as Dad and I have always been, I think there's a lot I would have missed [if I hadn't joined the business]."

Last year, Charlie became president of Toraño Cigars Inc. (His sister still works for the company, as chief financial officer.) Asked if he was now chairman of the company, Carlos smiled and replied, "Whatever."

What does Charlie's becoming president mean?

"He has more work now!" says Carlos, chuckling loudly. Adds Charlie with a grin: "The phone calls come in, and the ones Dad doesn't want to handle, he says, 'Talk to Charlie—he's the president.'" "Dad has been always very good about pushing me and pushing my sister out front," says Charlie. "When there's a clash between a father and son, in any business, unfortunately I do think it's sometimes a clash of ego. The father saying, 'Hey, 'I'm the man; as long as I'm on this planet, I'm the father, you're the son.' But Dad's never been that way…. And I think by him saying it's time to push you out front, I think that's very much Dad's personality."

"I've always had a very strong relationship with my family," says Carlos. "And that to me has been success. Now this is extra success. To be financially well, and to have my children working for me, that is a dream come true."

Chances are good that Charlie won't be the last Carlos Toraño to enter the cigar and tobacco business. "My son, he is also Carlos, is seven going on eight," says Charlie. "A couple of days ago he said to me, You know, Dad, I want to do part-time anthropology, digging for dinosaur bones, and part-time working in the cigar factory with you."

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