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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 2)

Sathya is working on changing the Holt's cigar catalog, plays a role in new-product development, and even joins his father and Ferrero taste-testing new cigars. "He has a very good palate," says Robert of his son. The fatherly pride is clear. "He's doing a great job."

ALBERTO AND ALEJANDRO TURRENT

It's impossible not to be immediately charmed by Alberto Turrent IV. The white-haired gentleman always seems to be smiling. His easygoing nature manifests itself when he explains why his son, Alejandro, is the first Turrent male in five generations not to be named Alberto.

"Too many Alberto Turrents!" he says with a laugh.

Alberto, 64, and Alejandro, 33, run Tabaclera Alberto Turrent, Mexico's premier cigarmaker and cigar-tobacco grower. The Turrents, who operate in the San Andres Tuxla Valley, outside the city of Veracruz, make Te-Amo, Mexico's most famous cigar brand, and last August launched the A. Turrent brand in the United States. They grow what's regarded as one of the finest maduro leaves in the world, San Andres Negro, a stalk-cut tobacco that is used to make many types of maduro cigars.

The Turrents have farmed these soils since the nineteenth century. Alberto Turrent's great-grandfather migrated from Spain to Mexico in 1880 and began growing tobacco. His three descendants named Alberto followed in the family footsteps.

Alejandro began working with his father in 1998. He focuses on the manufacturing portion of the business and his father spends more time on the tobacco side, but there's never a question as to who is in charge. "We don't really have titles," says Alejandro. "He is the boss, and he is involved in every aspect of the business. Whatever is left, I am in charge.

"We get along perfectly well, even though we often have opposite points of view, but he is always supporting my ideas," says Alejandro. "His management style is very flexible, very open for new ideas; he is pushing his people all the time to [get] the best from them. He says that being constant and to love what you do will get you anywhere."

Alejandro's name may have broken one tradition, but was there ever a doubt that he would join his father in the factory and fields?

"Never," says Alejandro. "My father is the fourth generation, and I've loved this business since I was a kid."

JOSÈ ORLANDO AND JORGE PADRÓN

Josè Orlando Padrón, patriarch of Miami's Padrón family, was raised in Pinar del Río, Cuba's famed tobacco growing region. There, as a young boy, he followed in the footsteps of his father and learned the art of processing tobacco. When Josè Orlando came to Miami, following the revolution, he began rolling the leaves into cigars. It's impossible to imagine him doing anything else for a living.

"I'll never forget my father, when he took the tobacco down from the cujes in the curing barn," says Padrón, using the term for the long sticks that hold tobacco leaves as they turn from green to rich brown. "He said, 'Tobacco leaves are like women: the more you stroke them the better they get.'" He lets out his infectious, hearty laugh, a half-smoked, box-pressed Padrón clenched in his hand.

"When I was younger, my first job was to clean the seedbeds in Cuba," he says. As a young boy of 13 or 14, he would smoke cigars on the sly in a barn. "In Cuba, none of the children smoked [publicly] before the age of 18. They had a lot of respect for their parents and didn't want to smoke in front of them."

The Padróns, like many tobacco farmers in Cuba before Castro's ascension to power, traced their heritage back to the Canary Islands. Josè Orlando's ancestors came to Cuba in the late 1800s. Dámasco Padrón, his grandfather, was the first in his direct family to grow tobacco in Cuba. All the children worked in the family business, but young Josè Orlando clearly made a special connection with the rich, supple leaves grown in the Vuelta Abajo.

"When it was time to turn a pilón [a pile of fermenting tobacco], it was more interesting than to go see a movie," he says. "If you're not in love with this business, it's very difficult to do things the right way."

Josè Orlando has passed on his enthusiasm to his sons. Jorge, 38, is the president of the company, and Orlando, 49, is vice president. "We live, breathe and eat tobacco," says Jorge. "Ever since I've been little, I've always worked in this business."

After earning a master's degree in business administration, Jorge went on a few interviews, but never really doubted that he would soon be selling cigars for his father. The company was doing well in those days, but sales were concentrated in Miami. Sales on a unit level, if not by revenues, were actually higher for Padrón Cigars in the early 1980s than they are now.

"When I came into the business [in 1981—82] all the Cubans in Miami smoked Padrón cigars," says Jorge. "In 1981, my father sold six million cigars, practically all in Miami. I always knew that we had a good product, an excellent product, but I also knew we had many, many markets we hadn't tapped."

"For me," says Josè Orlando, "I saw it as an opportunity to expand the business, because he spoke English. Traditionally, all the interaction had been with Spanish-speaking people."

Jorge worked on expanding Padrón and, in 1993, took his family's cigars to the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show for the first time. He found that his cigars' low cost and dark appearance were a detriment. Padrón cigars weren't an early hit, not until the 1994 release of the superpremium Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series. Since then, the only real problem has been making enough cigars to meet the demand.

For most of its 42-year-history, Padrón Cigars Inc. was run out of a cramped building on Miami's West Flagler Street, which served as its headquarters, the packing and shipping operations, and a small retail shop. The staff sat at desks crowded in the main room. Much of the staff is family, including Jorge's mother, Flory, his sisters, Lisette Padrón-Martinez and Elizabeth, his nephew Marcos Soto, and his cousin, Rodolfo Padrón, known as Crazy Rudy, for the time he picked up a bomb left at the headquarters.

Two years ago, the family relocated to a much larger headquarters around the corner. Space here is abundant: Josè Orlando has a large, corner office. Jorge and Orlando have spacious offices down the hall, but it's obvious from one look that they are rarely used. In Orlando's office, items sit in boxes, still unpacked.

Old habits and familial bonds are hard to break. The Padróns spend most of their time in the shipping area, near one another, or in Josè Orlando's office, talking, reminiscing and laughing. On this day, Jorge and his father are sitting in the chairman's office, smoking short Padrón Serie 1926 No. 35 cigars and arguing over Josè Orlando's complicated plan to restock owners of the Padrón Millennium humidor. Jorge thinks it's a bad idea. It takes more than an hour (plus the advice of two visitors and a call to a trusted cigar retailer) to convince him otherwise. Then it's time to discuss Josè Orlando's upcoming 80th birthday, and a cigar that will be made to commemorate the occasion. How about an eight-inch cigar? Josè Orlando scrunches his face. He doesn't like cigars that long.

The arguing is light hearted, sprinkled with good-natured ribbing. Jorge can't help but smile repeatedly, and gives as good as he gets.

"I did the same thing with my children as my father did with me in Cuba," says Josè Orlando. "I always hoped Jorge would get into the business. He was never disconnected from the business. In the back of my mind, I always knew he would end up here.

"I feel, in a way, lucky, and in a way very excited," he says. "Many of the people who were tobacco growers in Cuba, their sons went in different directions, away from the tobacco." He takes a puff, and pauses. "I've always been very persistent in maintaining the tradition, and passed it on."

Click here to read part 2 of "Father and Sons"


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