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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 2)

"Our family has always been close," says Fuente Sr. "I never recall having an argument with my father, and I never recall having an argument with my son." Not that they always agree. "When we started this farm," he says, gesturing with his arm, "we didn't need it. [But] look what he's done—he's taken this business to the next level. What my son has done is tremendous."

Just as Carlos Sr. took Arturo Fuente beyond the small borders of Ybor City and into national accounts, Carlos Jr. transformed the cigarmaker with the creation of Chateau de la Fuente. There the Fuentes grew Cuban-seed tobacco under shade in the Dominican Republic and used it as the wrapper on a novel project, the Fuente Fuente OpusX cigar. Dominican wrapper of this type had never been a commercial success, and was certainly never ballyhooed as a crowning element in a cigar. While the Fuentes had a hit from day one with consumers, the unique project caused quite the controversy with others in the industry.

"They said we were crazy, they said we were going to have a flop," says Carlos Sr., recounting what he heard from his contemporaries. He furrows his brow. "I knew that it could be done. There's nothing in this world that can't be done. I knew we didn't need it, but if that's what he wanted to do, I went along with him."

Doubt brought the two even closer together. "The more people said it couldn't be done, the more we wanted to do it," says Fuente Jr. "The more they said it couldn't be done," adds the father, "the harder we worked."

Fuente now makes more handmade cigars than any other family-owned company, and its size rivals that of the industry's corporate giants, Altadis U.S.A. Inc. and General Cigar Co. Despite the growth, Fuente is still very much a family affair. The company enjoys the luxury of not explaining its decisions to shareholders. The cigar blends are secret and are not written down. "Only my father and I know," says Carlito. The family hoards tobacco, putting much of its profit into the leaves it uses to make cigars. "We have six, seven, eight years of tobacco in inventory," says Fuente Sr. "It doesn't make business sense," says Fuente Jr. "My father always told me, you can run the cigar business with your heart, not with pen and paper."

Carlos Sr.'s daughter, Cynthia Fuente-Suarez, is also closely involved in the business, as is her husband, Wayne Suarez, who has been a part of the Fuente organization since 1992. "This is not a business to the Fuentes," Suarez says simply. "It's a way of life."

As the sun begins to sink lower in the sky, the heat relenting slightly, Carlito reaches for another one of his strong cigars. "I've been by my father's side the entire time," he says, looking at his dad with pride. "I can't imagine doing anything else."

John Oliva Sr. + John Oliva Jr.

If following in the footsteps of a successful businessman can be difficult, living in the shadow of a legend is far harder. The late Angel Oliva Sr. is one of the most revered men in the history of cigars. The hard-driven Cuban etched his name in the cigar history books when he bought much of the last pre-embargo Cuban tobacco crop—some 2.5 million pounds worth—and sold it for fair prices despite a U.S. embargo that suddenly made the leaf priceless. Known for working extremely long hours and patiently sorting tobacco until he felt it was perfect, he was the antithesis of an easy boss.

John Oliva Sr. (left) and John Jr.
Oliva came from a huge family ruled by a tough father. Survival meant work, and as a young boy Angel collected manure for two cents a pound. At age 12 he left home, and eventually founded Oliva Tobacco Co., in 1934. In the late 1950s, he bought his own farm in Cuba, fulfilling a dream.

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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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