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Smoking in the Boardroom

Many corporate executives still enjoy a great cigar.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

(continued from page 2)

A cluttered ashtray is at his left side, a few half-smoked cigars propped up in various positions. He began smoking cigars when he joined Bear Stearns as a clerk in 1949; back then, Montecristos were passed out in the dining room. Bear Stearns still passes out cigars, but when the Cuban embargo began it switched to Dominican, Honduran or Jamaican brands.

Greenberg rose through the ranks, becoming a general partner in 1958, CEO in 1978 and chairman in 1985. In 1993 he dropped the CEO title. Over the years, he has cut deals for luminaries such as Donald Trump and Ron Perelman. Working with the billionaire owner of Consolidated Cigar was good for Greenberg's cigar supply.

"Ron kept me in cigars for quite a while," he says. He hasn't had to buy a cigar in years. He smokes about three a day, and when he's not running the frantic show at Bear Stearns he plays bridge, hunts or does magic. But he never calls them tricks. "I do miracles," he quips. "Dogs do tricks." Despite his success, Greenberg still refers to himself as "a simple salesman from Oklahoma."

But cigar-smoking executives aren't all big shots. Andrew L. Tepper is only 28, but he runs IronSoft, Ltd., a tiny Pittsburgh software company. Tepper smokes one or two cigars a week, a practice he picked up at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts.

"When I was in prep school, smoking was strictly prohibited, except once a year when we had something called casino night. It might have been a cruel joke, but they told all these kids, 'Well, you can smoke cigars that one night, but you have to do it downstairs.' And it had about seven-foot ceilings. So, it was packed shoulder to shoulder with high school kids all smoking bad cigars," he says with a laugh. "The air was practically liquid."

Traveling to the pharmacy to pick out cheap cigars was a ritual for Tepper back then, but today he relishes sampling a variety of Honduran, Dominican and Cuban cigars. Romeo y Julieta Churchills are his favorite. When he smokes he does it outside, either while walking or reading. "I like the larger cigars, so I spend a couple of hours, and I just enjoy that," he says. "I just drop everything and have a cigar."

Many cigar smokers trace their roots back to cheap smokes bought in drugstores. Not Stephen L. Ruzow, president and COO of stylish clothing manufacturer The Donna Karan Co. His first puff was first-class: His grandfather gave him a Cuban cigar at his bar mitzvah when he was 13 years old. Today, Cuban cigars are his regular smoke. Ruzow smoked Cuban-made Davidoffs until the company shifted production to the Dominican Republic, and now he smokes Cohibas.

He can't smoke at the office, so Ruzow takes his cigars on vacation, where he found that they can help strike up a friendship. While visiting Anguilla, he met Cigar Aficionado editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken. "I was the only one smoking a cigar on the beach at 8:30 a.m.," Ruzow explains.

When Ruzow tried to duplicate his grandfather's generous gift at his son's bar mitzvah, his son declined. But recently, his son, now 23, asked for a cigar to smoke while playing poker with his friends. And Ruzow's 30-year-old son-in-law likes to share a cigar with him.

For John A. Balch, cigars and success go well together. Eight years ago, he was struggling to find space on store shelves for his new product, a handheld vacuum cleaner called the Dirt Devil. His company, Royal Appliance Manufacturing Co., had sales of $28 million, and it was searching for the break that would open up the U.S. market and introduce Royal to the big time. Then he got the phone call. K-Mart was going to carry his product. "That was the day we popped a bottle of Champagne here in the office and lit up," recalls Balch. "Sales really took off."

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