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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 1)

The two won't disclose the terms of the bet, but each is serious about the outcome. Pride is at stake. The elder Eiroa, who lives in Honduras and runs Camacho's tobacco growing and cigar-making operation, known as Tabacos Ranchos Jamastran, made the Camacho Select blend his way, kept the packaging Spartan and closed his ears to input from his son.

"When the old man first made a sample, I said, 'Dad'"—Christian makes a motion in the air, showing how his father cut him off. "He said, 'No. This is my baby.'"

The good-natured ribbing got a bit heated last Christmas. Julio left Miami angry and early, flying back to Honduras.

Julio is not apologetic about being at odds with his son on occasion. "I don't like full-bodied cigars," he says. "They're too strong for me. I always go for the cigar that you can smoke five or 10 cigars a day."

Julio is Camacho's patriarch, a 67-year-old with a stubborn personality honed by decades of doing things his own way. He used to own, a small plane, which he would fly around Honduras, but a crash in 1977 nearly ended his life. It robbed him of some of his freedom, leaving him partially paralyzed.

"When I got in the accident, I was by myself, and then everything went down. There was nobody to follow me," he says. Christian was only five years old. "I got out of tobacco for a few years. When I got back, I started hiring Cubans from Cuba. It was a disaster."

Upset with how others were running his operations, Julio eventually reduced the amount of tobacco he planted and took a greater role in the growing. He now says he is getting nearly the same yield from far fewer plants. And he continues to be a perfectionist when it comes to the quality of the leaf. "Two years ago, I burned $2 million worth of tobacco, bale by bale," says the elder Eiroa. He didn't like it, and wanted to rid himself of the temptation to turn it into cigars. Christian, 34, is stubborn in his own right. When he joined the family business in 1995, his father didn't want him buying tobacco from overseas, but he began buying it anyway, realizing it was the only way the company could grow. "I got lines of credit from the bank, and I just started buying tobacco. He didn't know what was going on," says Christian. "So there was always a difference in perception…there has always been a certain conflict."

Christian didn't want to work with his father. "Family businesses are always hard. It's never easy," he says. The situation proved too difficult for his older brother, Justo, who left the family business to work in the bottled-water industry. "They couldn't get along," says Christian. "Too many arguments."

Christian, a big, outspoken man with a sharp sense of humor, has the personality to match his father's confidence. "There are a lot of silent treatments before the launch of each brand," says Christian. Julio has been known to yank a product or change speed at the 11th hour, often spoiling Christian's distribution plans. He sometimes hides tobacco in Honduras, to throw Christian off when he visits.

"As competitive as our industry has become," says Christian, "speed to market is a big issue, and I think that causes a lot of our problems. He'll say it'll be ready in June, then I have to pull back the reins; everything has to come to a stop again. It drives me crazy."

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