As in life, the one certainty of the cigar business is change. Tastes change, styles change, seed varietals change and, inevitably, so do the people who run the industry. If "The Next Generation" seminar held on Saturday at the Big Smoke Las Vegas is any indication, the cigar world is in good shape as it prepares for the changing of the guard.
Three scions, each heir to family cigar businesses, discussed what it was like to grow up under large presences in the industry with an eye towards replacing them in the future. Panelists included: Liana Fuente, creative marketing director at Arturo Fuente, the daughter to Carlos Fuente Jr.; Tony Gomez, vice president of La Flor Dominicana and son of Litto Gomez; and Raquel Quesada of Quesada Cigars, daughter of Manolo Quesada. Moderating were two members of Cigar Aficionado's own next generation: senior editor Gregory Mottola and associate editor and website manager Andrew Nagy.
All the panelists related the hard work and weighty responsibility that goes with their positions. "I am very lucky to be here, to follow the tradition, to follow the passion," said Quesada. "My family has been surrounded by history. Talk about big shoes to follow."
Perhaps not surprisingly, certain perquisites go with being born into the cigar industry. Quesada spoke of growing up around the factory, playing hide-and-go-seek with her sister Patricia as a small child. As they grew older they held the estimable position of living in the only house in the neighborhood where smoking was allowed...cigars only, of course.
Fuente, whose great-grandfather Arturo founded the company and passed it to her grandfather Carlos Sr. and her father, Carlito, stressed the strong work ethic running through the family. "They wanted us to know what it was like to work," she said. "There's no nine-to-five in our business, but it's sure as hell fun."
For Gomez, the saturation in the cigar business didn't start until he was a bit older than the two women. When he was in grade school, his father, who had run a jewelry business, abruptly left it to join an industry he had no background in. The younger Gomez pointed with pride to his father's tenacity in sticking to his goals in the face of naysayers. "People said it was a crazy idea, but that's what made him want to do it. He pulled off something that was impossible."
Gomez, a talented musician, who once had ambitions of working in the film industry, added that he was never pressured to enter the family business. "My father wasn't pushy about it. He wanted me to do whatever made me happy," he said. "But when I thought about my future I realized this is a tremendous opportunity. I would be foolish to pass it up."
For none of the panel was entry into the business paved with rose petals. All said they were held to high expectations. "My father wanted me to find my passion," said Fuente. "He is super hard on me and I wouldn't have it any other way. Quesada remembered the "absolute nightmare" of her first job sorting cigars by wrapper color in the packing room. To emphasize she waved hands and said her nails were all cracked because of it. "But now I really appreciate it."
Gomez, who started in sales, but moved onto blending cigars in the factory, related being at odds with his father over the packaging of one particular creation, the La Nox. The issue was the blue color he chose for packaging. "He hated it," said Tony. "He said, ‘No, it sucks.' I said, ‘Dad, it has to be blue. Please, give me one shot.'" Ultimately the elder Gomez relented.
Perhaps, it is telling that two of the panelists in a pursuit known for male dominance were women. Fuente dismissed any incongruence, saying, "Tell me how sexy it is for a woman to smoke a kick-ass cigar." The quip was met with raucous applause.
The initiations of the young heirs to the industry were not all of a delicate nature. Gomez related being introduced to cigars by his father at 16: "He hands me a cigar and I light it up. He says, ‘Tony, if you really want to taste a cigar, you have to inhale.' "He followed the advice, and of course, he got sick. "I said, ‘Dad, you're an asshole.' Litto said to his son, ‘Now you know how not to smoke a cigar.' "