Q&A: The Silent Legend
An Interview with Alfons Mayer, the globe-travelling tobacco buyer for General Cigar Co.
From the Print Edition:
Morgan Freeman, Mar/Apr 2005
(continued from page 5)
Q: How long did you spend in Cuba learning all this?
A: Five and a half years.
Q: Your apprenticeship was that long?
A: That was for good reason—I didn't get my papers. They probably would have thrown me out after two years.
Q: Did the Cullmans own General at this time?
A: No, they owned it [starting] in 1961. When I came out of Cuba, [the company was] still under Julius Strauss. He sent me to every factory, and I did the same thing I did in the fields. The first thing is the stemming machine, and cut wrappers. I worked in a threshing operation. Everything was six weeks.
Q: Let's talk about how you rose up the ranks at General. Eventually you became the head of tobacco.
A: Yes. You have to realize I was still nobody coming out of Cuba. Then the Connecticut group directed me to go to Puerto Rico. I worked for a guy by the name of [Charles F.] Schneider, who was the head of operations for General in Puerto Rico, and not by my fault, eight months later he passed away. And a phone call came from New York and they said to take it over.
Q: What was the operation like?
A: We were growing tobacco, the farmers independently, and I would buy the tobacco for short-filler cigars. And the tobacco [that General Cigar grew on its farms in] Connecticut came to Puerto Rico. I made blends from Colombia, Brazil, Puerto Rico, a little bit from the Philippines. There were fantastic people coming in and out all the time, so they kept me there managing an operation, 1,650 people. That was a lot of responsibility.
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