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Fathers and Sons, Part 2

The second part of our look at the important generational partnerships that define a large part of the cigar industry
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006

(continued from page 9)

Fernando (right) and Guillermo León
"Now, I'm in charge of the heritage," says Eduardo's grandson Guillermo, in his slow-cadenced voice, which has a touch of gravel. "It's heavy on my shoulders." The 46-year-old León, a tall man with chiseled good looks, runs La Aurora S.A., the parent company's cigar business, which includes core brands Aurora and León Jimenes, plus popular new releases such as Aurora 100 Años and Aurora 1495. He's speaking on a quiet holiday in the Dominican Republic, sitting in his spacious office inside the gleaming complex that is La Aurora in Santiago. Most conversations take place here around a coffee table, which is surrounded by a large couch and chairs. To the left is a cabinet of cigars, some dating back to the 1970s.

"I feel very proud, because I have someone who I can trust 100 percent because of his knowledge, and who I know is going to guide me on the right track," says León. "That's an advantage." His guide is his father, Fernando León Asensio, who ran Aurora with his three brothers. Although the 84-year-old is officially retired from the cigar business, he still looms large over the company's operations. "He comes in two or three times a week, and he goes to the farms still to see the crops," says Guillermo, "and he still smokes five cigars a day." The smoking is not always recreational. "Anything that he finds, he tells me right away. He's part of the tasting panel."

The elder León is a stately, white-haired gentleman who speaks in a crisp, booming baritone. His father gave him an unusual introduction to the cigar business. "The first thing my father did to expose me to the business as a youngster was to buy me a white linen suit, then take me out to the fields just ready to be harvested. Then he asked me to walk across it several times so I could get acquainted with the raw materials for cigar manufacturing," says Fernando León. "You can imagine how my new linen suit looked at the end of the walk. I was never to forget the experience.

"No one can make a good tobacco man by imposing," says the elder León. "I really think it is a matter of genetic heritage. This is a trade that cannot be truly loved unless one is born into it. There are no institutions that I know of that you can attend and get a degree on this fascinating world of tobacco."

The Leóns are not the only family business connected to La Aurora cigars—the company that distributes its smokes, Miami Cigar & Co., has a father-son team, Nestor and Daniel Miranda, involved in the business as well.

Guillermo is humbled by his family's history, and hopes to take the company further, as his father and three uncles did before him.

"The four brothers," Guillermo says, "they worked as hard as my grandfather. It's like a ladder—my grandfather started [climbing] and walked two steps. Then they did three steps, or four or five. Now I have to keep going."

Father + Son Teams of the Past

Some of today's best-known cigar stars were trained by their fathers. Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, the maker of La Gloria Cubana, worked for his father (of the same name). The younger Carrillo originally wanted to be a drummer, but when his father nearly sold the business to the Gore family, makers of Royal Jamaica, the son had a change of heart and decided he, too, wanted to be a cigarmaker.

Frank Llaneza, the storied former owner of Villazon & Co. and one of the first producers of gusty, strong cigars, inherited the Villazon cigar business (later acquired by General Cigar) from his father, Josè Llaneza. "I had to do everything in the factory," says Llaneza, describing how his father wanted him to learn each step of the cigar-making business before he retired. Manuel Quesada, the maker of Fonseca, Cubita, Matasa 30th Anniversary and many other cigars produced at Manufactura de Tabacos S.A., was trained by his father, the late Manuel Quesada Sr. Nick Perdomo Jr. once worked in tandem with his father, Nick Sr., who oversaw Tabacalera Perdomo's Nicaraguan cigar factory, while Nick Jr. managed things from the company's Miami Lakes, Florida, headquarters. Perdomo Sr. died in 2004.

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Comments   1 comment(s)

Robert Martin — Flushing, New York, Queens,  —  September 30, 2011 6:46pm ET

my brother anthony got me smoking Arturo's when we were in Atlantic City.... love them...

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