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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 6)


For nearly two years, Sathya Levin has been learning the ropes at his father Robert's Philadelphia cigar company, which owns the Ashton brands.

The company business model allows the younger Levin to get a complete picture of the cigar industry. The Levins not only distribute cigars, but they sell them: they own the Holt's shop in Philadelphia and have a considerable mail-order business. They also have a very close relationship with Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., makers of the Ashton brands and a minority owner of the business.

"He's doing everything," says Robert Levin of his 25-year-old son. "That's basically the idea." "I'm trying to learn everything that we do," says Sathya. He spends time at headquarters, he's worked in the shipping department, and he goes on the road with key members of the Ashton team, including the director of worldwide sales Chip Goldeen and the vice president of sales Manny Ferrero. (Ferrero is also part of a father-son team; his son, Tony, is an Ashton salesman.) "Sathya's young," says Levin, 59, who has worked in the business for more than three decades, following the route taken by his father. "He's kicking ass. Let's face it—he has the energy and the creativity that's necessary to move the company forward."

Sometimes, perhaps, too much energy.

"We talk business all the time," says Sathya, who lives with his parents. "We even talk at night."

"I can't relax and read a goddamn newspaper," Robert gripes. "Ten, 11 at night I'm sitting in my chair. He wants to talk business all the time. I can't escape it—24 hours a day."

The younger Levin dabbled in the family business for years, working in the warehouse, packing orders, and doing all kinds of things that sons traditionally do in family businesses. "I had to learn from the ground up," he says. A breakthrough moment came in the 11th grade. His school required all students to do a monthlong personal study assignment. Most opted for internships, and Sathya decided he would spend his month in the Dominican Republic with the Fuente family learning how his father's Ashton cigars were made, from start to finish.

"I lived with Carlos Fuente Sr.," Sathya says. "I learned cigar making. At the end, I was rolling. That's when I first started smoking cigars. It was a good month."

Levin's father was proud, but the school wasn't thrilled when the project was initially proposed, and Robert had to fight for its approval. "They didn't like the fact that he was going to a cigar factory—the school is very politically correct," says Robert. "I had to go talk to the headmaster."

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