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Movers and Shakers

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

A collection of profiles about leading members of the cigar industry.

Oscar Basulto
Co-President,
Habanos S.A.,

Oscar Basulto is the most powerful man in the world of Cuban cigars. Not only is he the joint head of the global Cuban cigar distributor Habanos S.A., he is the president of Tabacuba, the umbrella organization that coordinates the production of all tobacco products on the island, from handmade cigars to bulk tobacco shipments.

The 58-year-old Cuban is a straight-talking, salt-of-the-earth character who enjoys a good joke as well as a fine cigar, but he's extremely serious when it comes to his job. Tabacuba, created in 2000, has a workforce of more than 250,000, and oversees the annual production of some 280 million to 300 million cigars -- about half for domestic consumption. The $240 million company also supervises the production of about 10 billion cigarettes and exports 12,000 tons of bulk tobacco. Basulto, who has worked in agriculture since the early 1960s, says his current posts give him the most satisfaction. "I am working for one of the most prestigious products of my country," he says.

—James Suckling

Jim Colucci
Senior V.P., Sales and Marketing, Altadis U.S.A. Inc.

Jim Colucci, 56, oversees the sales and marketing plans for the impressive portfolio of brands owned by Altadis U.S.A, the largest manufacturer of cigars in the United States and part of the Altadis S.A. Group, the largest maker and marketer of cigars in the world. Colucci has spent virtually his entire career in the cigar business, mainly working with domestic, or mass-market, cigars for the first 20 years. In 1998, he was named to his current post, which also includes the oversight of all of Altadis's premium cigars. During the past four years, Colucci was involved in the difficult task of reestablishing some equilibrium in the cigar market, working through the huge inventories built up during the boom, and helping to stabilize the production capacity on the manufacturing side. Colucci argues that today the product being shipped to the market is better than it has ever been.

—Gordon Mott

Theo Folz
President and CEO, Altadis U.S.A. Inc.

Theo Folz, 59, has been a key player in the integration of the former Consolidated Cigar Corp. into the global conglomerate created by the merger of Tabacalera de España and France's SEITA. Altadis U.S.A. produces many brands, including Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann and Onyx Reserve, and is the distributor for Te-Amo cigars in the United States. Folz has spent his entire life in the cigar business. When he was five he tagged along with his father, a cigar salesman, on sales calls. Folz believes strongly that the cigar market is healthier today than it's ever been, and that the total number of cigar smokers is at least double what it was 10 years ago.

—GM

Bob Franzblau
Owner
, Thompson Cigar Co.

Bob Franzblau was searching for a business opportunity when his friend and mentor, Stanford Newman, pointed him to Thompson Cigar Co., which had been founded in 1915. "The company was nearing the end of its rope," says Franzblau, who acquired the business in 1960. "They had lost money in consecutive years." Thompson made natural-wrapped figurados, not what the U.S. market wanted at the time. Franzblau abandoned manufacturing and engaged Newman and others to make cigars for him, particularly green, or candela, cigars, which were in high demand. "It was the best deal I ever made," says Franzblau, now 74.

Franzblau has never smoked, to which he credits some of his success. "Some of the more spectacular failures in the business were caused by manufacturers who thought their taste was overriding," says Franzblau. Instead of selling cigars he thinks are good, he simply sells cigars that his customers enjoy.

—David Savona

Carlos Fuente Jr.
President, Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia.

"Look at this," says Carlos Fuente Jr., showing off the work of one of the most talented cigar rollers at Tabacalera A. Fuente. The top is a wild mop of dark tobacco. The body of the cigar, a complex figurado, has curves like a supermodel. The foot is narrow, wrapped with a different leaf. The cigar, like so many others Fuente proudly displays, will never be sold. It's a special shape that he will give away to friends or auction off for charity, one of his driving passions. Spending time with the 48-year-old Fuente makes one imagine that he couldn't possibly do any other job. Fuente was born into the family trade. He played in tobacco bales and learned the art of blending at the side of his father, Carlos Fuente Sr. His crowning achievement is the Fuente Fuente OpusX, launched in 1995. The cigar proved to the world that Fuente's beloved Dominican Republic could grow fine shade wrapper tobacco. The ultra-rare cigars have made the Fuentes world famous, and Fuente Jr. lovingly calls them "my children."

—DS

Jaime Garcia-Andrade
Co-President, Habanos S.A.

Jaime Garcia-Andrade is a soft-spoken, thoughtful man, which is perhaps not what some might expect for one of the heads of Habanos S.A., the global distributor of Cuban cigars. The 46-year-old Spaniard was made joint-president of the organization in late 1999, along with Oscar Basulto, shortly after Cuba agreed to sell half of Habanos to global tobacco giant Altadis for nearly half a billion dollars.

Garcia-Andrade is more of a coach than an autocratic leader at Habanos, so he takes little or no credit for any of the improvements in quality and distribution of Cuban cigars. Instead, he always praises the Cubans for taking the initiative to better their prestigious product. "It's quality that counts now," he says. "It's part of the mentality in everyone working in cigars now in Cuba." His comments may still include a large amount of wishful thinking, but many aficionados already see a change for the better.

—JS

George Gershel
Senior Vice President, Altadis U.S.A. Inc.

George Gershel has always been a tobacco man. The 72-year-old is the fourth generation in his family to work in tobacco, and he lives for acquiring the best leaf possible for the dozens of brands made by cigar powerhouse Altadis U.S.A. More than four decades ago, Gershel began working for Consolidated Cigar Corp. as an assistant tobacco buyer. The company changed ownership various times, the latest in 1999, when SEITA bought Consolidated and later merged with Spain's Tabacalera to form Altadis. Gershel's talent for finding first-class tobacco, particularly wrapper, has helped the company maintain and even improve quality during these sometimes turbulent changes. One of Gershel's biggest decisions was moving to Indonesian wrapper tobacco in the 1990s. He was concerned with the supply and quality of Cameroon wrapper and found the quality of Indonesian tobacco ever improving. He later championed the use of Habanos2000 from Central America.

  —JS

Litto and Ines Gomez
Owners, La Flor Dominicana

When Miami jeweler Litto Gomez was forced to the ground by a burglar, a loaded gun pressed against his head, he thought his life was over. He was spared, and left the business. "That guy changed my life," he says. That was 1993. One year later, he opened the tiny Los Libertadores cigar factory in the Dominican Republic with partner Ines Lorenzo, who later became his wife and changed her name to Lorenzo-Gomez. In 1996, they renamed their brand La Flor Dominicana, which is now made in a posh factory in Tamboril. La Flors are made with powerful Dominican tobacco grown on a company-owned farm in La Canela, and in late 2003 the company is slated to unveil its first Dominican puro, crowned with wrapper tobacco from that farm. Gomez runs production while Lorenzo-Gomez manages distribution in Miami. Each Monday and Friday, the 47-year-old Gomez can be found on an airplane, flying to and from work.

—DS


Hendrik Kelner
CEO, Cidav Corp.

It's easy to understand why Hendrik "Henke" Kelner, the 56-year-old president of the Davidoff factory and the maker of Davidoff and Avo cigars, is considered a tobacco master. Born to a tobacco family in the Dominican Republic, Kelner has been in the tobacco business his entire life. "I have tobacco in my blood," he says. "Tobacco was my first job and I'm never going to work another." For Kelner, his love for the leaf rests somewhere between passion and obsession. From growing and harvesting tobacco to fermenting and aging, Kelner is deeply involved with every aspect of cigar making. And, in what Kelner describes as a "market of innovation," a little passion and obsession are key to growing great tobacco and creating world-class cigars. His latest innovation is the Davidoff Limited Edition, made with a 1996 Dominican wrapper he's perfected over the last several years.

—Mike Marsh

Robert Levin
President, Ashton Distributors Inc.

Robert Levin, 56, is another well-known figure in the cigar business with a lifetime of experience. His parents ran a retail cigar business from the time he was a child. Levin entered the cigar business full-time in 1972. His business today includes two Holt's Cigar stores in Philadelphia, significant wholesale and catalog operations, and the well-regarded Ashton cigar, which was launched in 1985 and has been made by Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia. in the Dominican Republic since 1988. While Levin is worried about the ongoing antitobacco campaigns, he says that the cigar business is in good shape, and he has a strong base of consumers who love to smoke cigars. He fondly remembers the boom years of the mid-'90s when his business was "doubling and tripling."

—GM

Rick Meerapfel
Managing Director, M. Meerapfel Söhne

Rick Meerapfel has a lot to live up to as a tobacco man -- his father, Heller, bought a great portion of the Cuban tobacco crop just after the revolution. Rick, 50, took it as a challenge, and in the last seven years has become a world force in Central African wrapper tobacco. Among his clients are some of the biggest names in cigars, including Arturo Fuente and General Cigar. His Sumatra-seed tobacco is some of the finest, richest wrapper grown outside of Cuba's Vuelta Abajo, where Meerapfel spent many years in the late 1970s and early '80s learning the "Cuban way" of doing things.

Each year, Meerapfel says, the quality of Central African tobacco improves. He has operations in both Cameroon and the Central African Republic, and the companies he chairs, Cetac Central Africa and Cetac Cameroon, employ nearly 10,000 people. "This means a lot to Africans," says Meerapfel, whose companies are partly owned by locals. "It proves that they can do it on their own. I am very proud."

—JS

Benjamin Menendez
Senior V.P. of Premium Cigars, Altadis U.S.A. Inc.

The date, says Benjamin Menendez, is "like a brand that cattle have." November 26, 1960. "I went to the airport and left Cuba. I left with my wife, three kids and $7 in my pocket," he says. Two months earlier, doomsday for Cuba's cigarmakers, Fidel Castro's troops took over Cuba's cigar and tobacco industries. The gem in his stolen crown was the mighty Montecristo and H. Upmann brands, owned by Benjamin's father, Alonso Menendez, and his partner, Pepe Garcia. Today, a bespectacled 66-year-old with a wide smile and an endless supply of stories, Benjamin Menendez has spent his life at the helm of some of the biggest cigar brands the world has ever known. Starting with Montecristos in Cuba, he moved on to make Montecruz and Don Diego in the Canary Islands, Macanudo in Jamaica and now, coming full circle, Montecristos in the Dominican Republic. True cigar aristocracy, "Benji," as he is known to nearly everyone, never stopped traveling.

—DS

Eric Newman
President, J.C. Newman Cigar Co.

As part of the third generation to work in the family business, Eric Newman, 54, president of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., must follow what he calls the perseverance of the generations preceding him. Started in 1895 by his grandfather, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. was just one of 42,000 licensed cigar manufacturers in the United States. One hundred and seven years later, J.C. Newman Cigar remains the only American cigar company from that era still owned and operated by the original family. "There's nothing in business that's come around that my grandfather and father hadn't seen," said Newman, who has worked within the family business since 1972. "It's up to my brother [Bobby] and myself to foster relationships in this industry for this company to continue to succeed."

—Mark Weissenberger

Robert Newman
Executive Vice President, J.C. Newman Cigar Co.

For Robert Newman, the winter of 1986 was one that would make or break his family. Along with his brother Eric, and spearheaded by his then-70-year-old father, Stanford, the three Newmans had leveraged to buy out 11 other family members for ownership of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. The majority of their assets, including Stanford's home, was used as collateral in the high-risk deal. But for Robert, the transaction allowed him to witness his father's savvy business skills, as well as the confidence shown in himself and his brother during such a precarious venture. Today, family-operated J.C. Newman Cigar owns such brands as Diamond Crown, Cuesta-Rey and La Unica; and Robert, 51, serves as the company's executive vice president.

—MW

 

Angel Daniel Núñez
Executive V.P., Mfg. and Tobacco, General Cigar

Daniel Núñez, 51, has spent 30 years with General Cigar, during which time he has become one of the most well-rounded men in the cigar industry, learning and mastering all aspects of cigar making. In 1972, he was in the fields, experimenting with wrapper grown in the Dominican Republic. From there he learned the process of sorting and aging tobacco and then, under the legendary Ramón Cifuentes, the art of manufacturing cigars. In the early '90s, Núñez learned to purchase tobacco, and today he is General's executive vice president of manufacturing and tobacco. Occupying one of the most influential positions at General, he oversees the company's entire cigar-making operation, from the fields in Connecticut and the Dominican Republic to the factories producing General's vast catalog of cigars.

—MM

 

John Oliva Sr.
President, Oliva Tobacco Co.

He played both offense and defense as a member of the University of Florida football team, but the toughest job John Oliva Sr. ever had was following in the footsteps of his father, Angel. A legend in the cigar business, Angel taught John the value of hard work and showed him how to run one of America's most revered tobacco companies. After Angel died in 1996, John took over the business, which he runs with his brother Angel Jr., his son John Jr. and nephew Angel III, known as Trey. Oliva Tobacco is a family affair, with tobacco-growing operations in Nicaragua, Honduras and Ecuador. "The good rule of thumb is, man, when the country's fun to go to, and the climate's perfect, and the political situation is great, tobacco ain't worth a shit there," says Oliva.

—DS

Cano A. Ozgener
Owner, C.A.O. International Inc.

Cano A. Ozgener, the patriarch of C.A.O. International Inc., began his tobacco career improving meerschaum pipes, which led to his starting his own company in 1968. He added humidors to his product line, then cigars, entering the cigar market in 1993. Success has followed the C.A.O. brand ever since. More recently, Ozgener achieved his greatest singular accomplishment outside of his thriving cigar business: overcoming cancer. This past January, the 65-year-old was afflicted with lymphoma; a regimen of chemotherapy left him bereft of the ability to taste. After his third week of treatment, his taste buds began to return, and his mouth was as sensitive as that of a baby's. "But I wanted to smoke a cigar," he says. "And I said to myself, 'it better be the best cigar out there,' which is what I expect from my cigars." On that day, following his third week of treatment, he smoked a C.A.O. Gold without chagrin.

—MW

Jorge Padrón
President, Padrón Cigars Inc.

Jorge Padrón, 34, says he was never forced to enter the family cigar business, but when he earned his MBA in 1992, it became very clear that he wanted to make cigars alongside his father, Jose Orlando, founder of Padrón Cigars Inc. His friends thought him foolish. At the time, selling cigars seemed an unpromising way to apply the talents learned at business school. The Padrón brand was successful, but it was locked into Miami. "Eighty percent of our business was the local Miami market," says Jorge Padrón, who soon hit the road to push the brand. He went to his -- and the company's -- first Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show in 1993, and Padrón went national. The brand reached a new level with the 1994 introduction of the Anniversary Series, and the company followed that up with a Padrón Millennium and the new Serie 1926 cigar. "It's not my achievement," says Padrón, typically modest. "It's our achievement. I can't imagine doing anything else."

—DS

Jose Orlando Padrón
Chairman, Padrón Cigars Inc.

Jose Orlando Padrón has Cuban tobacco in his blood; his family has grown tobacco since the 1880s. In 1961, Padrón, who was born in Pinar del Rio, left his native Cuba for Spain. After a short time there and in New York, he settled in Miami, and three years later he created the Padrón brand. "I started manufacturing in Miami in hopes of providing my fellow Cuban exiles a cigar similar to the ones we smoked in Cuba," he says. He grew fond of Nicaraguan leaf, which was just starting to come into its own, and in 1970 he began making cigars in Nicaragua. He added a second, smaller factory in Honduras in 1978. In recent years Padrón cigars have soared in popularity. Production is modest, some four million cigars a year, and the 76-year-old has no intention of growing into a cigar giant. "We will follow our family traditions and remain faithful to the course we set 38 years ago, continuing to focus all of our efforts on producing quality and not quantity."

—DS

Larry Palombo
President, U.S. Cigar Sales Inc.

Larry Palombo, 54, is a lifelong veteran of the cigar industry. He spent 21 years working for General Cigar Co. before joining the cigar unit of UST Inc., the owner of smokeless tobacco giant U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., makers of Skoal and Copenhagen, in 1995. Formerly vice president of tobacco, in May 2001 he was promoted to president. Born in the Bronx, Palombo is a talented tennis player and a passionate cigarmaker, never without a breast pocket brimming with cigars. His latest creation is the Vega Talanga, a cigar packed in palm bark known as a tercio and finished with a fat pig tail and an uncut foot. The smoke is loaded with tobacco grown on U.S. Cigar Sales's Honduran farm, located in the Talanga Valley. The farm, says Palombo, "is the future of our company."

—DS

 

Rocky Patel
President and CEO, Indian Tabac Cigar Co.

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.

—DS

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."

—MM

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.

—DS

 

Rolando Reyes Sr.
Owner
, 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.

—DS

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.

—JS

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.

—GM

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.

—DS

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.

—DS

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."

—DS

 

Cynthia Suarez
President,
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.

—GM

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."

—GM

Carlos Toraño
President, Central America Tobacco Corp.

Carlos Toraño, 59, is a third-generation cigar manufacturer; his son Charlie is fourth-generation. Together they run Toraño Cigars, building on a cigar-making tradition that dates back to 1916 when Carlos Toraño's grandfather immigrated to Cuba from Spain. In 2002, with a "solid market and serious smokers," Toraño used its family tradition to provide top-quality premium cigars to retailers and consumers. Along with making cigars for such names as C.A.O. and the Newmans, Toraño has released its own lines of Honduran cigars, including the Carlos Toraño Exodus 1959. Carlos Toraño believes in creating complex blends for the "maturing and demanding smoker." He also believes in attaching his family's history to his cigars instead of being a faceless company. "Our goal," says Toraño, "is to build brand awareness by personalizing our cigars with consumers and offering them the best value."

—MM

 

 

Alberto Turrent IV
President, Nueva Matacapan de Tabacos S.A.

The first name in Mexican cigar brands is Te-Amo, and the name behind Te-Amo is Turrent, a fifth-generation family business that owns Nueva Matacapan de Tabacos S.A., the makers of the brand. The Turrents have been farming tobacco in Mexico since 1880, and today Alberto Turrent IV, 60, is the patriarch. Known for using all-Mexican tobacco, the Te-Amo brand was first exported to New York City in 1964. Quickly, the puros gained popularity, and they remain the best-selling Mexican cigars in the United States. However, as the demand for fuller flavored cigars started to take shape in the late 1990s, Turrent and his family decided to start experimenting with tobacco grown outside of the San Andres Valley. The Te-Amo Anniversary and the Te-Amo Cabinet Selection feature Dominican, Nicaraguan and Brazilian tobacco in their blends, bringing an added complexity of flavor to the Turrents' cigars.

—MM

Antonio Vázquez
V.P., Chief Operating Officer, Altadis S.A.

It's hard to think of someone in the cigar business more dynamic than 50-year-old Antonio Vázquez. He oversees aspects of the world's largest and most important cigar business. According to the Altadis 2001 annual report, the company has a 27 percent share of the global cigar market, selling 3.3 billion premium and mass-market smokes in 2001. It reported cigar revenues of approximately $765 million for the year, excluding excise taxes.

Many credit Vázquez for masterminding the creation of Altadis's impressive cigar portfolio, not only the merger of Spain's Tabacalera S.A. with France's SEITA in December 1999, but also with prior acquisitions in the United States, including Havatampa and Hollco-Rohr.

A keen cigar smoker and bon vivant, Vázquez believes that the future for the premium cigar world is making better and better quality cigars, wherever that may be -- Cuba, the Dominican Republic or Honduras.

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