An Interview with Edgar M. Cullman Sr.
Chairman of the Culbro Corporation
(continued from page 1)
On the West Coast, the Haas family, who owned Levi Strauss, put up some of the money. And the Ford Foundation put up some of the money. That was our group.
C.A.: What was your strategy in 1961?
Cullman: I'll be very frank with you. I don't think we had a great plan. I think what we did have was the fact that we had bought a cigar business that was a very good business. We thought it was a good value at the time.
C.A.: With the acquisition, you were in the brand business but at the volume and price end, whereas today you are very much in the premium ends. What was the driving force that moved you from the volume end to the premium end?
Cullman: That evolved. I think what happened was I wanted to grow the business and we had a chance to buy Gradiaz Anis. They made Gold Label cigars. It was a premium cigar and when we bought Gold Label we upgraded our cigar business to much higher-priced cigars.
C.A.: From a nickel-and-dime cigar to a...?
Cullman: To a 25-cent or 30-cent cigar. We bought Gradiaz Anis and we also bought the Temple Hall factory in Jamaica. We bought that in 1969.
C.A.: You bought the Temple Hall factory that owned the Macanudo name?
Cullman: It owned Macanudo, but hadn't made Macanudos for the U.S. market. They only made Temple Hall.
C.A.: So Macanudo was pretty much a nonexistent brand?
Cullman: It had been produced but in minimal quantities for the U.K. market. Actually, the factory had made Macanudo and Montecristo during World War Two because at that time they couldn't make enough cigars in Havana.
C.A.: Was the Temple Hall factory mainly a supplier for other brands or for its own brand?
Cullman: For their own brand. They also made export cigars for British American Tobacco (BAT).
C.A.: Was Temple Hall a well-known brand in those days?
Cullman: Not very. It was a very small factory, very unimportant. They made Creme de Jamaica.
C.A.: Let's stay for a minute with Macanudo because that's a brand that most American cigar lovers know. You bought this factory in 1969. Today it's the largest-selling premium cigar brand in the United States. How did it happen?
Cullman: We worked very hard on our blend. We wanted to have something unique. We grew our own tobacco for it. We picked special tobacco for it. We grew our own wrapper tobacco.
C.A.: Where was the tobacco for Macanudo from in those days?
Cullman: The Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico.
C.A.: And the wrapper was from Connecticut?
Cullman: Yes. From day one. But the wrapper we had from Connecticut was a special wrapper. It was a special seed, specially picked, specially processed, and we didn't use tobacco unless it was aged at least two years, sometimes three. We preferred three.
C.A.: So part of your product strategy was to produce a cigar with an aged wrapper at a time when few other premium cigar makers were into aging.
Cullman: Yes. There weren't many premium cigars such as ours at that time. All of a sudden we knew we had a really sweet wrapper. It had a taste we could rely on because it was blended after an extra year of curing to make that tobacco sweeter. It appealed to the American consumer. It just took off; we couldn't make enough of it.
C.A.: As a matter of curiosity, is the taste of the Macanudo cigar today much different than 20 years ago?
Cullman: There's very little difference.
C.A.: The formula, the blend, is pretty much the same?
Cullman: Pretty much the same. There have been little changes because Jamaica doesn't grow any tobacco anymore. Which is a great pity. We would like to see them grow tobacco again. But the main body is tobacco grown in the Dominican Republic and some in Mexico.
C.A.: So you had a well-made product. Today you have a great brand name with extensive distribution. How did this come about?
Cullman: We concentrated on better restaurants and distributed cigars to the best restaurants. And the cigars seemed to sell there. We did quite a bit of advertising. We were the first who really had a very strong advertising campaign on Macanudos.
C.A.: What year was this?
Cullman: This started in the 1970s. We started to advertise Macanudo very strongly. And we continue to do that.
C.A.: TV, magazines, billboards...?
Cullman: Mostly magazines, newspapers and in the end we had some on radio. We have never run on TV.
C.A.: Did you have an advertising slogan?
Cullman: "The ultimate cigar."