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Movers and Shakers

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

(continued from page 2)

Rakesh "Rocky" Patel built his Indian Tabac cigar brand on frequent flier miles. A cigar-smoking girlfriend gave him his first smoke (he was a Los Angeles lawyer at the time) and in 1995 he met Phil Zanghi, who was starting a cigar company. The early Indian Tabacs didn't burn up the charts. Last year Patel bought out his partner, and he continues to improve the blends, adding fuller-flavored lines, and enhancing the packaging. Born in India (which, ironically, has nothing to do with the cigar brand, which was named for Indian Motorcycles), Patel moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, as a teenager, where he developed an obsession for the Packers rivaling that of native cheeseheads. Now his true home is the airplane. He has frequent, intense nightmares of air disasters, but the 41-year-old always survives in his dreams, taking the controls of the burning or crashing jet before he awakens. Though Patel's company is based in Naples, Florida, he's rarely there, a testament to the days, nights and weeks spent on the road.


Nick Perdomo Jr.
President and CEO, Tabacalera Perdomo

When Nick Perdomo left his position as an air traffic controller in the early 1990s and opened Nick's Cigar Co. in Miami, his passion for cigars was the driving force. Since then, Perdomo, 37, has maintained his passion, and brands like La Tradicion Cabinet Series and Perdomo Estate Seleccion have established him as a superior cigarmaker. Today, as Tabacalera Perdomo continues to expand, Perdomo sees a healthy cigar market, though he admits he has some concerns about increasing taxes and antismoking legislation. But even with those worries, Perdomo believes there is plenty of opportunity in the years to come. "We believe quality provides quantity," says Perdomo. "If we continue with that idea, the sky is the limit for us in the future."


David Perez
President, ASP Enterprises Inc.

David Perez was not encouraged to enter the tobacco business. His father, Alfredo, wanted him to be a lawyer, but he made a deal with his father: put the money for school aside. "If the business goes bad, then I'll go," he said. He stayed with the business, and when Alfredo died in 2000 at age 54, David's role increased at the company. ASP, one of the largest tobacco growers in the world, has farms in Nicaragua and Mexico, but its pride is Casjuca, its sprawling tobacco farm in Ecuador. ASP is the largest grower in the country, and it specializes in custom-grown hybrids for a host of clients. Perez, 31, guards his client list as he does his seeds, hybrids that were created on Sundays by his father and grandfather, Silvio, then passed down to his generation.



Rolando Reyes Sr.
, Puros Indios Cigars

Rolando Reyes Sr. has been called the world's most talented cigarmaker— and the most eccentric. He left Cuba as a young man, first employing his gifted hands as a knitter before opening cigar factories in Union City, New Jersey, Miami, the Dominican Republic and finally Honduras, where he makes Cuba Aliados and Puros Indios cigars. For 14 years he made his cigars in a creaky old 12-room motel in the center of Danl", sleeping during the day before rising to check the work of his rollers. Reyes, 79, still has a lector read to the workers in the gallery, just as it was done in old Cuba. One of his cigar shapes, the crazed Diadema perfecto, is among the hardest in the world to roll. Unlike many cigar company owners, he can roll the shapes himself, often teaching men a third his age the art that was passed down to him from a Cuban master. This year, Reyes—who has never used the local Honduran tobacco in his cigars—opened a modern factory in Danl", but his old-fashioned work habits remain the same.


Alejandro Robaina
Tobacco Farmer, El Pinar Plantation

"It's sometimes said that the international image of Cuba is symbolized by three individuals: the leader, Fidel Castro; the musician, Compay Segundo; and the tobacco grower, Alejandro Robaina. The fact that the last is the greatest tobacco grower on the island only underlines the importance of cigars to the Cuban economy and the prestige of the country.

Robaina, 84, has grown tobacco his entire life, and growing the best means everything to the octogenarian. His family has been growing tobacco since 1845 on his Vuelta Abajo plantation, El Pinar. Robaina has some of the highest yields per hectare for high-quality tobacco in Cuba. "Anyone in Cuba can do as well as we can," says Robaina, who this year relinquished control of his plantation to his young grandson, Hiroshi. "It's all a question of dedication. You must be dedicated to quality, no matter the personal gain." To honor the man, Cuba launched the Vegas Robaina cigar brand in 1997.


Janelle Rosenfeld
Director of Marketing and Advertising, Altadis U.S.A. Inc.

Janelle Rosenfeld, 40, entered the cigar business about seven years ago, after she decided it was an industry she wanted to know more about. After a trip in 1996 to visit Altadis U.S.A., then Consolidated Cigar, she was offered a marketing position. Today, she runs the largest advertising budget in the cigar industry. She says her basic philosophy is to promote the company's brands by focusing on each brand's history, and then on the company's commitment to quality. She has helped develop specific advertising and marketing campaigns that differentiate the brands, so that each "stands on its own." Altadis is also striving to build a strong connection to its consumers. "We know that this is bigger than just a cigar. It's about a lifestyle and a passion that people have for cigars," says Rosenfeld.


Lew and LaVonda Rothman
Chairman, President and CEO & Executive Vice President,
JR Cigars

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.

Cynthia Suarez, 43, is one of the most well-known women in the cigar business. She appears in the advertising for Arturo Fuente cigars, and she has been a public presence for the company's brands all over the world. From the time she was a child, Suarez worked alongside her father, Carlos Fuente Sr., and her brother, Carlos Fuente Jr., learning the inner workings of the cigar business. She says she was taught to select and sort tobacco, choose wrappers and binders, and blend tobacco. "My dad had us work in all divisions of the company," she says. After years spent on the marketing side of the business in the United States, Suarez now is in charge of administration and accounting for the company along with Fuente Jr. She is married to Wayne Suarez, who is an executive at A. Fuente U.S.A.


Wayne Suarez
Executive V.P., Sales and Marketing, Fuente U.S.A.

Wayne Suarez, 48, likes to say he started in the cigar business the same year that Cigar Aficionado was launched, 1992. But that's not really accurate. Suarez grew up very close to cigars in his hometown of Tampa, Florida, where his grandmother and grandfather worked in cigar factories. And, he'd seen the industry up close when he accompanied his wife, Cynthia, the daughter of Carlos Fuente Sr., to the annual retail tobacco show, RTDA. For everyone in the retail trade, Suarez's face is a familiar sight as the company tries to increase its shipments of its ever popular Arturo Fuente cigars. While Suarez admits that he's gotten used to "getting beaten up" in the last 10 years, he's not complaining about the demand that exists for the family's cigars. He's got a lot of optimism for the industry's prospects. At the 2002 RTDA show in Las Vegas, Suarez noted, "There were definitely buyers there."


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