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Movers and Shakers

CA Staff
From the Print Edition:
10th Anniversary Issue, Nov/Dec 02

(continued from page 9)

A man with a thick beard walked into a Harlem candy store in 1960 and bought a box of La Corona Coronas. The $17.50 box was the most expensive in the shop, and 15-year-old Lew Rothman was ecstatic. "It was the largest cigar sale I had ever made in my whole life," he says. That weekend, he saw the man's picture in The New York Times and learned his name: Fidel Castro. From that humble start, in which he worked seven days a week in his father Jack's candy and cigar store, Rothman built JR Cigars into the King Kong of cigar retailers. Rothman hammered away at cigar salesmen to cut the best deals, making him the titan of cigar discounters. The 56-year-old runs JR with his wife, LaVonda, the company's executive vice president. She sent JR's first mail order, covering a package with stamps salvaged from the store's stamp machine, which had been broken in a robbery. Today, the company's mail-order business is massive, and JR is the largest customer of virtually every notable cigar company in the United States.


Ernst Schneider
Chairman, Oettinger Imex A.G.

Ernst Schneider saw the horrors of man while serving as a commissioner for the Swiss Red Cross after the Second World War. He worked for the Swiss in Imperial Japan, "defending Swiss interests," he said, and helped organize medical assistance for the victims of Nazi death camps at Dachau and Birkenhau. "This was, by far, my best experience I ever did in my life," he said in a 1993 Cigar Aficionado interview. Schneider entered the tobacco business in 1948, to help his sick father-in-law, proprietor of the Max Oettinger Co. In 1967, Schneider took over the company. In 1970 he made what would become his greatest business move: acquiring the Geneva shop owned by Zino Davidoff. Schneider paid $930,000 for the shop ("people said I was crazy," he said) and with Davidoff built the name into an empire. Today Davidoff is a world-renown cigar brand and distributor of Davidoff-brand luxury products, all centered around the cigar.


Josè Seijas
Vice President and General Manager
, Tabacalera de Garcia Ltd.

Josè Seijas operates one of the world's largest cigar factories, the sprawling Tabacalera de Garcia, the heart of cigar operations for Altadis U.S.A. Some of the best-known Dominican brands in the world—Montecristo, H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta—are made here, all under the watchful eye of Seijas, a soft-spoken 52-year-old with an easy sense of humor and an affection for business books, which fill the cases behind his cluttered desk. It's not easy making tens of millions of cigars a year, but there are rewards, none sweeter than the premier Teeth of the Dog golf course only five minutes away from Seijas's factory in La Romana, Dominican Republic. Seijas, a 27-year veteran of the company, boasts an 11 handicap. His best moves, however, are done in the blending room, where he has been spicing up Altadis's brands with fuller-flavored extensions of cigars that had been pigeonholed as mild- or medium-bodied smokes. "I don't do cigars for me," he's fond of saying. "I do cigars for the market."



Cynthia Suarez
Fuente U.S.A.

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