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
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006
(continued from page 4)
It must be tempting to skip a few leaves when doing the process one leaf at a time. John Sr. fields the question quickly. "Can't do it," he says. "Those would be the first three or four leaves the customer would touch."
So how does one follow in the footsteps of a legend?'
"You want to know what the trick is? Don't try to do it. I never did," says Oliva Sr. "Don't ever try to follow your dad's footsteps—make your own. I don't care who your dad is. I can tell you right now, my father is an unusual man. He created a business from nothing. I can't tell you I ever did that. My goal was to try to make it as big as I could, make it bigger and more profitable. You do what you do best."
Gilberto Oliva Sr. + Jose Oliva
Oliva Cigar Co. has been growing tobacco in Nicaragua for decades. The Miami Lakes, Florida, company (which is not related to the Oliva Tobacco Co. in Tampa) branched out into cigar manufacturing 11 years ago. It now sells a variety of cigars bearing the family name, from the bargain-priced Oliva "O" Classic Olè (which was one of Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 Cigars of the Year) to the higher-end Oliva Master Blends, a new version of which comes out every year. Company vice president Jose Oliva joined the family cigar and tobacco business when it started making cigars. He was 22 years old, fresh from studying marketing at St. Thomas University in Miami, and he thought he could teach a few things to his father, family patriarch Gilberto Oliva Sr., who was then 64.
"Working with my father is a thing that has evolved," says Jose, who is now 33. "Eleven years ago, there was a good deal of frustration, me thinking things needed to be done a certain way. Now, it's pure admiration and appreciation for him."
When the Olivas first began making cigars, they tried to emulate the popular brands of the day, putting light-colored Connecticut-seed wrappers around a mix of Dominican and Central American tobaccos. They failed to find an appreciative audience.
Salvation came from the family's disdain for taking on debt: the company turned to Gilberto's large inventory of aged Nicaraguan tobaccos and began making puros. The change worked well, as Americans were growing more enamored with rich Nicaraguan tobacco leaf.
As a young man, Jose didn't understand the value of having bales of tobacco piling up in inventory, not making money. "I, being very young, wanted to see additional money put into marketing, additional money put into packaging. He wanted it all to go into tobacco," he says. "There was a tremendous amount of what I thought I knew."
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Robert Martin — Flushing, New York, Queens, — September 30, 2011 6:46pm ET
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