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Richard L. DiMeola

Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, Consolidated Cigar Corporation
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96

(continued from page 1)

CA: Were they using the same tobacco?

DiMeola: Yes, it was the same tobacco except that they were mixing in some short tobacco. About 12 percent short tobacco was going into the cigars at that time.

CA: Was the short filler tobacco used as a cost-saving thing?

DiMeola: It was their program to improve the profitability of the company. In my view that was short-sighted.

CA: Can you next tell us highlights of what happened in the business between 1984 and 1996, such as brand acquisitions or other significant events?

DiMeola: Well, the most significant thing that happened was in 1985--two of the three managers who were left from the previous management also left the company. [The third,] George Gershel, who is today our senior vice president in charge of all tobacco leaf, is a key person on our management team, and he is still with us. In October 1985, when those two guys left, one of them had charge of manufacturing. Theo told me that he wanted me to assume responsibility for premium production as well as premium marketing and sales. I went to the factory, and with the brief supported by Mr. Perelman, I began trying to make the best premium cigar the world has ever seen--certainly as far as construction is concerned. He was willing to invest the money required to meet that goal. So I met with José Seijas, who is still with us, and David Lacey. David Lacey was the general manager of the factory in the Dominican Republic at that time. David has since died, and Jose is now our general manager, but the three of us sat down and discussed how we were going to accomplish our brief. David said the best way to make good cigars is by hand.

Up to that time, we were making a lot of cigars by machine bunching, and we weren't making very many cigars at all over 46 ring--a 46 ring was the biggest bunch we could get off of the machines. So in October 1985 we began a program to convert that factory to a handmade factory, and began taking all the production off of machines. That took us two years to accomplish, and meanwhile, the machine-bunched cigars had to be sold out in the market. We converted that factory to total handmade, although we didn't throw the machines away. We still use the machines for some production. And we still machine-bunch some Primo del Reys--not all, but some--some bundles and some other cigars, but most of the production from that factory today is all handmade.

We started fresh at the time, and we asked--how are we going to do it? The traditional Cuban method for making cigars was to have one person roll the cigar from beginning to end. The traditional Dominican method for rolling a handmade cigar was to use a Temsco aid [a large rolling device] for hand-bunching, and then hand-roll it using teams of three. One buncher services two rollers. Well, I said that I didn't want to do that--that team program. I had asked the questions: "How do we know that the ratio is two to one? How do we know that one size is not made faster than another? What happens when one part of the team is sick? Does it destroy the cadence of the team?" We decided to focus on bunching and rolling as separate operations. We put all the bunchers on one side of the room and all the rollers on the other side of the room. That enabled us to build expertise in bunching and, we think, build expertise in rolling. It also enabled us to begin the quality control system from the very beginning in order to attempt to catch a cigar that is not going to be rolled well or draw well before it becomes an actual cigar. We're still doing that to this day--only we've refined it a great deal. We no longer have all the bunchers on one side of the room and all the rollers on the other. The factory is set up in quadrants, like four factories in one.

CA: Was it at [the Dominican town of] La Romana at this point?

DiMeola: Yes. The company started operating in La Romana in 1969.


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