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An Interview With Guillermo León

President, León Jimenes Cigars
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Chuck Norris, Jul/Aug 98

(continued from page 8)

CA: How many factories existed in July 1997? How many are still in operation today?

León: This is an informal estimate because those factories were often so small, they didn't pay taxes. But say there were about 130, and by January, according to my understanding, about 80 or so had stopped operating. Now, remember we are calling a factory a house with two rollers. What many brand owners did was they would buy from this one and that one, gather some inventory, slap on their label. But the cigars came from different manufacturers. So, I'd estimate that 80 have already closed, and more [closings] are still to come.

CA: Do you think that in the next year we are going to be at the point that we were in 1994, with eight to 12 cigar companies operating in the Dominican Republic?

León: Yes, I would say that is about right. There are some new companies that are going to stay in business, because they produce a quality product.

CA: Up to now, La Aurora maintained contracts with about 200 tobacco growers. Do you have any plans to change that system and become landowners?

León: We do not own land. We gave direct financial and technical assistance to our growers until last year. This year we are using a system that most manufacturers now employ. That is, we have a contract with a company that buys all the tobacco and it is responsible to deliver a certain amount of tobacco, and that all the tobacco that you, the cigar manufacturer, receive is in good condition. We do have our own personnel in the tobacco fields and at the tobacco warehouses. And, we are always going to have contact with the growers in the fields. There are other manufacturers that do not maintain contact with the fields, and they just wait to receive the tobacco. In that sense we have always been in the fields, and we've always had contact with the growers. You need to know the growers, and if you are going to give them support, you have to have people in the fields.

The reason we changed our process is more legal than anything else. We didn't want La Aurora getting into legal issues with each grower. In the past, we've lost a lot of money with the growers. We gave them equipment; in fact, we gave them everything necessary to grow tobacco. But if they break the contract, then you are in a legal fight directly with them. Even then, if we won, we used to leave them with everything. We have lived all our lives off the growers; we don't see ourselves bringing any harm to the growers, even if they cause us harm. For us, the growers have always been some of the most important people in this process.

CA: So you don't have any plans for a project like the Dominican wrapper project that the Arturo Fuente company has?

León: We are interested in everything. In the last year, we added seven new sizes to our brand portfolios. We always give the consumers what they want. If we see a market that we could explore, without a doubt we would do it. We have the financial and human resources to accomplish any goal. We are very prepared in that sense. Remember that we were the ones that developed blond tobacco, Virginia burley tobacco in the Dominican Republic. That was unknown territory; they didn't know that tobacco here. We imported it from the United States, and we created the department, we trained the technicians. At the time, there were only about 20 technicians in the fields here. And, we created about 400 to 500 growers. We have the resources to do about anything in regards to the growing of leaf. If it is needed for the market, we will be part of it.

CA: Let's talk about the two brands: Aurora and León Jimenes. You used to call the brand La Aurora, but you've changed it to just Aurora. Why?

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