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Nicholas Freeman

Chairman, Hunters & Frankau
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Matt Dillon, Spring 96

Nicholas Freeman is the chairman of Hunters & Frankau, the sole importer of Cuban cigars into the United Kingdom. His family has been in the cigar business for five generations; it traces its involvement in cigars to a retail merchant in London in the early 1800s who rolled cigars.

The family sold its mass-market cigar business in 1947, which today is an American Brands subsidiary in Europe. The Freemans, however, later regained ownership of a small importing division of their company, J. Frankau. The division had operated throughout the Second World War, importing cigars from Jamaica because Cuban cigars were unavailable in Great Britain during that period due to currency controls. When Cuban cigars became available again in Great Britain, the Freemans sold the Jamaica operation and began focusing on Cuban cigars. The company evolved slowly over the next 35 years, but by the late 1980s, it controlled nearly 40 percent of the imported Cuban cigar market in the United Kingdom. In the early 1990s, Hunters & Frankau bought the remaining two importers of Cuban cigars and took sole control of the market.

In a wide-ranging interview in November with Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine, Freeman discussed the future of Cuban cigars, the Cubans' ongoing problem with quality and the worldwide boom in cigar consumption.

CA: When I first met you, you represented a small portfolio of Cuban cigars brands. At the time, there were other companies that owned the balance. How did Hunters & Frankau end up as the sole agent for all Cuban cigar brands in the U.K.?

Freeman: I'll give you an update. In the late 1960s, when Hunters & Frankau, Ltd. was operating as a joint company--the two companies had merged--we had at that time 25 percent of the Cuban cigar business. By 1979, our share of the Cuban business had risen to about 40 percent. And that was entirely through commercial efforts in marketing and so on, at the expense of our competitors.

In 1990, we acquired Knight Brothers, which had the Romeo y Julieta agency, which was quite a small business. Then, in 1993, we acquired Joseph Samuel & Sons, who had always been one of the biggest Cuban cigar importers in the U.K. They had Punch, Bolivar and Hoyo de Monterrey which were their three big brands. And that gave us all the Cuban business. But in the process of doing that--when we acquired Knight Brothers--that's how we inherited outside shareholders in Hunters & Frankau, Ltd. That is to say, a Cuban investment company.

The Cubans earlier had acquired Knight Brothers. I gave the Cubans stock in Hunters & Frankau in return for their share in Knight Brothers.

CA: From our earlier conversations, I believe you told me that you owned 57 percent of Hunters & Frankau, Hambros [the British investment bank] had about 38 percent, with the rest belonging to David Baxter, a former Hunters & Frankau executive?

Freeman: That's the group, the holding company. Hunters & Frankau Group also has a controlling interest in Hunters & Frankau, Ltd., which is the trading company. This Cuban investment company has a large percentage of Hunters & Frankau, Ltd.

CA: Is it 50-50?

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