Like many father-and-son teams, Julio and Christian Eiroa work together to bring their family's business to life. Thanks to their diligent efforts, their Camacho brand is a fixture in cigar shops across the United States. But it's not the smoothest business relationship. The Eiroas butt heads often. And the arguments go beyond differences of opinion on basic strategy—they don't even like the same cigars. "We disagree all the time," says Julio, Christian's 67-year-old father. He's sporting the type of world-weary gaze worn by exasperated fathers the world over, men who are often flummoxed by the ideas of their sons. Across the desk, Christian smiles, more than a hint of mischief gleaming in his dark eyes.
The relationship between fathers and sons is one of the cornerstones of the cigar industry. The art of crafting great cigars by hand, the secrets of coaxing the impurities out of tobacco and the magic of trying to understand the delicate workings of nature aren't things that can be learned from a textbook. Knowledge is handed down person-to-person, from master to apprentice, and very often the father is the master teaching the lessons he has learned and passing them on to his own blood, most often his son. It's a practice steeped in tradition.
Many of the world's best-known premium cigar brands have a father-son team behind them, including Arturo Fuente, Padrón, Ashton, Davidoff, Camacho, C.A.O., Te-Amo and Cuesta-Rey.
"This industry is divided into two: the big two companies, and the rest are families. And in 90 percent of those families, historically it has been fathers and sons," says Carlos Toraño, who makes Toraño cigars with his son, Charlie. "It is beautiful."
We've profiled many of the great father-and-son teams in the past, but for the first time we've decided to focus not so much on how they make their cigars or grow their tobacco, but how they interact with each other. How does a son handle the pressure of walking in the footsteps of a legend? How does a father pass on what he knows to his son? And how do the two of them work together, day in and day out, often bringing very different perspectives to the same business?
The cigar world is vast, and there were too many people to cover in one story, so we broke it into two parts. The second part will appear in the next issue.
JULIO AND CHRISTIAN EIROA
Julio and Christian Eiroa aren't the first father-son team to disagree over how to run the family business. But the main players in Camacho Cigars Inc. and Tabacos Ranchos Jamastran are likely the only cigarmakers in the world rooting against their own products.
"We have a bet," says Christian, over the performance of two selections in the Camacho line. Julio likes the Camacho Select, a cigar made with a Cameroon wrapper that debuted in early May. His son's favorite is the more high-powered Camacho Corojo.
"In the first 12 months, whoever sells more, wins. That's the bet. Camacho Select versus Camacho Corojo," says Christian with a chuckle.
The two won't disclose the terms of the bet, but each is serious about the outcome. Pride is at stake. The elder Eiroa, who lives in Honduras and runs Camacho's tobacco growing and cigar-making operation, known as Tabacos Ranchos Jamastran, made the Camacho Select blend his way, kept the packaging Spartan and closed his ears to input from his son.
"When the old man first made a sample, I said, 'Dad'"—Christian makes a motion in the air, showing how his father cut him off. "He said, 'No. This is my baby.'"
The good-natured ribbing got a bit heated last Christmas. Julio left Miami angry and early, flying back to Honduras.
Julio is not apologetic about being at odds with his son on occasion. "I don't like full-bodied cigars," he says. "They're too strong for me. I always go for the cigar that you can smoke five or 10 cigars a day."
Julio is Camacho's patriarch, a 67-year-old with a stubborn personality honed by decades of doing things his own way. He used to own, a small plane, which he would fly around Honduras, but a crash in 1977 nearly ended his life. It robbed him of some of his freedom, leaving him partially paralyzed.
"When I got in the accident, I was by myself, and then everything went down. There was nobody to follow me," he says. Christian was only five years old. "I got out of tobacco for a few years. When I got back, I started hiring Cubans from Cuba. It was a disaster."
Upset with how others were running his operations, Julio eventually reduced the amount of tobacco he planted and took a greater role in the growing. He now says he is getting nearly the same yield from far fewer plants. And he continues to be a perfectionist when it comes to the quality of the leaf. "Two years ago, I burned $2 million worth of tobacco, bale by bale," says the elder Eiroa. He didn't like it, and wanted to rid himself of the temptation to turn it into cigars. Christian, 34, is stubborn in his own right. When he joined the family business in 1995, his father didn't want him buying tobacco from overseas, but he began buying it anyway, realizing it was the only way the company could grow. "I got lines of credit from the bank, and I just started buying tobacco. He didn't know what was going on," says Christian. "So there was always a difference in perception…there has always been a certain conflict."
Christian didn't want to work with his father. "Family businesses are always hard. It's never easy," he says. The situation proved too difficult for his older brother, Justo, who left the family business to work in the bottled-water industry. "They couldn't get along," says Christian. "Too many arguments."
Christian, a big, outspoken man with a sharp sense of humor, has the personality to match his father's confidence. "There are a lot of silent treatments before the launch of each brand," says Christian. Julio has been known to yank a product or change speed at the 11th hour, often spoiling Christian's distribution plans. He sometimes hides tobacco in Honduras, to throw Christian off when he visits.
"As competitive as our industry has become," says Christian, "speed to market is a big issue, and I think that causes a lot of our problems. He'll say it'll be ready in June, then I have to pull back the reins; everything has to come to a stop again. It drives me crazy."
Each Eiroa is confident he will win the bet. "My cigar is going to be selling 90 percent, and you're going to be 10 percent," says Julio.
Despite the good-natured ribbing, each sees the value of the other in the business. "He's a hell of a salesman," says Julio of his son. "We love the business, we work hard. But I tell him, he sells the first cigar, but then the cigar has to sell itself."
Christian tries to return the favor by describing his father's dedication to the craft of farming tobacco, sharing the story of how Julio was able to grow fine leaves on a patch of rocky, desolate soil that others had abandoned.
"There's this field, this patch of land we have on the farm that basically everybody had given up on. It's a…"
Julio cuts him off. "I always say," says Julio, "you need the climate, No. 1…" Christian smiles as his dad speaks. "Let me finish," he says with a grin.
CANO AND TIM OZGENER
The many brands that make up the C.A.O. International Inc. portfolio are named for founder Cano A. Ozgener, whose initials grace what has become one of the more familiar cigar brands in the world. Ozgener's son, Tim, is a major contributor to the company's identity, which revolves around hip marketing and a dedication to quality. The two work well together, in a convivial attitude of good humor and respect for the other's opinion, but it's a relationship that doesn't always follow the typical father-son dynamic.
"What's fun about the relationship is it sets the whole mood for the office," says Micky Pegg, the national sales manager of C.A.O. They have "three distinctly different relationships: father-son, boss-employee and brother-brother. The energy between all those, everyone sees it." The two are an unlikely pair of cigarmakers, headquartered in an unlikely place to find a cigar company: Nashville, Tennessee. Cano is a quiet, reserved man, a former DuPont engineer who entered the tobacco business by inventing a new way to craft meerschaum pipes. Tim is an outgoing funnyman—he once was a stand-up comic—who can easily entertain a room.
"We have very different backgrounds," says the elder Ozgener, sitting at his luxurious new conference table in his recently renovated offices, which features a Zen garden used for reflection. "I am a mechanical engineer, he is an actor. He comes from an artistic background, I come from a scientific background. That's a very good mix." The 69-year-old smiles, looking like a man who is happy with his life and at ease with his surroundings, despite having recently undergone a stem-cell procedure to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which is now in remission. He is in high spirits.
Tim and his sister, Aylin (pronounced Eileen), started working with their father in a very humble way, helping out with his pipe business when he still worked full-time at DuPont. "My sister and I would come home from school, and [Dad] would say, 'Roll up your sleeves and dunk your hands in the Sweet and Clean,'" says Tim, 36, referring to a blue liquid Cano developed for cleaning pipes. Ozgener, always a pragmatist, found it much quicker to have his children dunk bottles directly into the solution rather than filling up each bottle from the tap at the bottom of the jar. The pipe business was the start of C.A.O., but it was an expansion into cigars that made the company boom. In the mid-1990s, when Tim was out in California trying to get his break in comedy, he needed a second job to pay the bills. "My dad said, 'Instead of waiting on tables, why don't you visit tobacconists?'" California was a major market, and Tim dropped in on shop owners to get feedback on the burgeoning C.A.O. cigar, at the time the company's only cigar brand.
"Back then we had a cigar that wasn't lighting the world on fire," says Tim of the Honduran smokes. "One box would be green, the other brown." As with many companies having cigars made under contract during the cigar boom, C.A.O. had consistency problems.
The Ozgeners built on that early cigar experience. "We don't come from a cigar background. We had to learn the hard way [and] we learned from the best," says Cano.
Key to their success was making themselves the face of their brands and turning their name into one that smokers recognized. "We stumbled into the family aspect for C.A.O.," says Cano. Chicago retailer Diana Silvius-Gits told them they should push the family angle, and the Ozgeners three now adorn the ads for C.A.O.
The ads are not typical. Devoid of factory or field shots, the only cigars shown are being smoked by the family members, and no one stands around tobacco bales. The Ozgeners are the focus, and they look hip. In one ad, Tim, who has a shaved dome and a grizzly goatee, is scowling over a C.A.O. that he is setting alight, his father smirking by his side, his 34-year-old sister decked out in Goth-style makeup. In another, the three are wearing leather jackets.
"I give a lot of credit to my son and daughter, who sometimes kick me in the shin to wake me up and take me in directions I wouldn't always go," says Cano.
One route Tim got his father to follow was making the C.A.O. Brazilia, which Tim says "was probably the breakthrough in our relationship." The cigar broke a few cigar industry rules: first, it employed green as a part of the label, which has long been frowned upon, and it trumpeted the Brazilian wrapper on the cigar, which was hardly a selling point. "My dad [prefers] to be safe," says Tim.
"I have to have an open mind, and follow the artist rather than the engineer," says Cano, speaking in the slow, deliberate tones of a man who practices yoga on a daily basis. "Our demographic is younger. I liked [Brazilia] very much. I wouldn't have thought of it myself."
"He comes from a young perspective," Cano says of his son. "I respect that. Fifty percent of the time we don't agree, but when we come to a consensus we are 100 percent together."
CESAR AND DAVID BLANCO
Cesar and David Blanco began selling their Los Blancos cigars brand at the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show in 1999. It was the start of the post-cigar-boom world, not the easiest time to enter the cigar business, but the Blancos had some connections: family members had married into the Plasencia and Oliva tobacco-growing families. The Blancos entered a difficult business with what they thought was a winning product. Then, the world changed.
"9/11 hit," says David Blanco, a compact, confident-looking man with a soldier's haircut. The Blancos were military men before they became cigar men: David enlisted with the U.S. Army Reserve at age 18, following in the footsteps of his father, who has spent 29 years on both active and reserve duty. With America at war, the Blancos were soon shipped overseas, and their military commitments had to come before the cigar business. Cesar Blanco spent almost a year in Iraq as commander of the 375th MP Detachment, and David spent two years in Afghanistan serving with the 10th Infantry Division. "My mother was in shambles," says David, 34.
The business fared worse. "When I came back, and my father came back, we were in the toilet," says David. "And we said, 'Do we fold it, or do we go on?' My father has always been a very determined man, and it's probably one of the reasons we're doing as good as we are."
Cesar Blanco, president of Los Blancos, emigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1961, when he was 14. His father had served in the Cuban house of representatives under Fulgencio Batista, and his mother was a lawyer. The Blancos settled in Chicago, following business opportunities. David, the first member of his family born in the United States, grew up in Chicago, and he seems to have a sense of adventure, having served the city as a police officer and a paramedic in the fire department. His father also served with the Chicago Fire Department, as a deputy chief. "You can say he is a chip off the old block," Cesar Blanco says of his son.
The Blancos have always had close ties with cigars, and father and son puffed away while serving in the field. Selling Los Blancos cigars has brought both of them closer to their roots. "This has brought me back to the family business," says David Blanco, who serves as the vice president of business development for Los Blancos. "I hope this takes me to my golden ages."
CARLOS AND CHARLIE TORAÑO
For generations, the men of the Toraño family joined the tobacco business. "This is who we were," says Carlos Toraño, who learned about tobacco at the side of his father, one of the most famous figures in the tobacco world. The man lived, breathed and even died tobacco: he is remembered for bringing the first Cuban seeds to the Dominican Republic, and died after having a heart attack in a curing barn.
"I've always said the name of Toraño is synonymous with tobacco, because I could not recall any Toraño family members who were not involved in tobacco," says Carlos Toraño, 63. "I'm talking about cousins, second cousins, uncles, second uncles, everybody I knew in the Toraño family—everybody was in tobacco. Growers, manufacturers or dealers or something—everyone was in tobacco."
His only son, Charlie (his given name is also Carlos, but he goes by the nickname), broke that chain temporarily, becoming a lawyer for several years. His father was happy.
"I did not think that there was a future in the cigar industry," Toraño says, speaking of the 1970s and 1980s when cigarmakers seemed headed for oblivion. "Going to the RTDAs," he says, speaking of the annual industry trade show, "maybe there were 40 booths. And you would say…" he takes a dramatic breath, spreading his arms wide for emphasis "…this is the future." With sales falling and the outlook grim, the elder Toraño never encouraged his son to join the cigar business, and was pleased when he yearned to be a lawyer, like his maternal grandfather.
As cigar sales grew stronger in the mid-1990s, the Toraño family business once again had a future. Carlos's daughter, Carolina, 37, joined the business in 1995. A year later, Charlie decided he wanted to change careers, and broached the subject of working for his father.
"We were having dinner in Boca Raton, and it was with my wife and my mother, and my wife didn't even know I was going to make this statement," says Charlie, 38, a taller, slimmer version of his father with a slight goatee and longish hair. "I said, 'Dad, is there room for me at the company?' And he said, 'There's not room, there's a need.'"
Charlie closed his law books and joined the family business. (But not before having a fight with his wife, who didn't know he was going to make his dinner statement.) The cigar business has changed Charlie. "Most lawyers are encased in four walls. Doing a lot of reading, a lot of writing…you don't travel much, you don't see the world, and you tend to see more problems than opportunities," he says. "It took me a few years to make a bit of the transition of just looking at the pitfalls."
Getting used to the cigarmaker tradition of doing business with a handshake didn't sit well with him. "We do so much on a handshake, the lawyer part of me doesn't sleep sometimes," he says. His father, who wears a broad smile like a comfortable T-shirt, chuckles as he listens.
It's evident that Charlie doesn't miss wearing suits or staring at four walls. He now wears open-collared shirts and travels frequently to his company's factories. What he treasures most is the additional time he now spends with his dad.
"In many ways I was seeing a lot less of Dad in the years leading up to when I started working here," he says. "It's been a thrill ride, to be honest with you, both enjoying the tobacco business but also just working with Dad. As close as Dad and I have always been, I think there's a lot I would have missed [if I hadn't joined the business]."
Last year, Charlie became president of Toraño Cigars Inc. (His sister still works for the company, as chief financial officer.) Asked if he was now chairman of the company, Carlos smiled and replied, "Whatever."
What does Charlie's becoming president mean?
"He has more work now!" says Carlos, chuckling loudly. Adds Charlie with a grin: "The phone calls come in, and the ones Dad doesn't want to handle, he says, 'Talk to Charlie—he's the president.'" "Dad has been always very good about pushing me and pushing my sister out front," says Charlie. "When there's a clash between a father and son, in any business, unfortunately I do think it's sometimes a clash of ego. The father saying, 'Hey, 'I'm the man; as long as I'm on this planet, I'm the father, you're the son.' But Dad's never been that way…. And I think by him saying it's time to push you out front, I think that's very much Dad's personality."
"I've always had a very strong relationship with my family," says Carlos. "And that to me has been success. Now this is extra success. To be financially well, and to have my children working for me, that is a dream come true."
Chances are good that Charlie won't be the last Carlos Toraño to enter the cigar and tobacco business. "My son, he is also Carlos, is seven going on eight," says Charlie. "A couple of days ago he said to me, You know, Dad, I want to do part-time anthropology, digging for dinosaur bones, and part-time working in the cigar factory with you."
ROBERT AND SATHYA LEVIN
For nearly two years, Sathya Levin has been learning the ropes at his father Robert's Philadelphia cigar company, which owns the Ashton brands.
The company business model allows the younger Levin to get a complete picture of the cigar industry. The Levins not only distribute cigars, but they sell them: they own the Holt's shop in Philadelphia and have a considerable mail-order business. They also have a very close relationship with Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., makers of the Ashton brands and a minority owner of the business.
"He's doing everything," says Robert Levin of his 25-year-old son. "That's basically the idea." "I'm trying to learn everything that we do," says Sathya. He spends time at headquarters, he's worked in the shipping department, and he goes on the road with key members of the Ashton team, including the director of worldwide sales Chip Goldeen and the vice president of sales Manny Ferrero. (Ferrero is also part of a father-son team; his son, Tony, is an Ashton salesman.) "Sathya's young," says Levin, 59, who has worked in the business for more than three decades, following the route taken by his father. "He's kicking ass. Let's face it—he has the energy and the creativity that's necessary to move the company forward."
Sometimes, perhaps, too much energy.
"We talk business all the time," says Sathya, who lives with his parents. "We even talk at night."
"I can't relax and read a goddamn newspaper," Robert gripes. "Ten, 11 at night I'm sitting in my chair. He wants to talk business all the time. I can't escape it—24 hours a day."
The younger Levin dabbled in the family business for years, working in the warehouse, packing orders, and doing all kinds of things that sons traditionally do in family businesses. "I had to learn from the ground up," he says. A breakthrough moment came in the 11th grade. His school required all students to do a monthlong personal study assignment. Most opted for internships, and Sathya decided he would spend his month in the Dominican Republic with the Fuente family learning how his father's Ashton cigars were made, from start to finish.
"I lived with Carlos Fuente Sr.," Sathya says. "I learned cigar making. At the end, I was rolling. That's when I first started smoking cigars. It was a good month."
Levin's father was proud, but the school wasn't thrilled when the project was initially proposed, and Robert had to fight for its approval. "They didn't like the fact that he was going to a cigar factory—the school is very politically correct," says Robert. "I had to go talk to the headmaster."
Sathya is working on changing the Holt's cigar catalog, plays a role in new-product development, and even joins his father and Ferrero taste-testing new cigars. "He has a very good palate," says Robert of his son. The fatherly pride is clear. "He's doing a great job."
ALBERTO AND ALEJANDRO TURRENT
It's impossible not to be immediately charmed by Alberto Turrent IV. The white-haired gentleman always seems to be smiling. His easygoing nature manifests itself when he explains why his son, Alejandro, is the first Turrent male in five generations not to be named Alberto.
"Too many Alberto Turrents!" he says with a laugh.
Alberto, 64, and Alejandro, 33, run Tabaclera Alberto Turrent, Mexico's premier cigarmaker and cigar-tobacco grower. The Turrents, who operate in the San Andres Tuxla Valley, outside the city of Veracruz, make Te-Amo, Mexico's most famous cigar brand, and last August launched the A. Turrent brand in the United States. They grow what's regarded as one of the finest maduro leaves in the world, San Andres Negro, a stalk-cut tobacco that is used to make many types of maduro cigars.
The Turrents have farmed these soils since the nineteenth century. Alberto Turrent's great-grandfather migrated from Spain to Mexico in 1880 and began growing tobacco. His three descendants named Alberto followed in the family footsteps.
Alejandro began working with his father in 1998. He focuses on the manufacturing portion of the business and his father spends more time on the tobacco side, but there's never a question as to who is in charge. "We don't really have titles," says Alejandro. "He is the boss, and he is involved in every aspect of the business. Whatever is left, I am in charge.
"We get along perfectly well, even though we often have opposite points of view, but he is always supporting my ideas," says Alejandro. "His management style is very flexible, very open for new ideas; he is pushing his people all the time to [get] the best from them. He says that being constant and to love what you do will get you anywhere."
Alejandro's name may have broken one tradition, but was there ever a doubt that he would join his father in the factory and fields?
"Never," says Alejandro. "My father is the fourth generation, and I've loved this business since I was a kid."
JOSÈ ORLANDO AND JORGE PADRÓN
Josè Orlando Padrón, patriarch of Miami's Padrón family, was raised in Pinar del Río, Cuba's famed tobacco growing region. There, as a young boy, he followed in the footsteps of his father and learned the art of processing tobacco. When Josè Orlando came to Miami, following the revolution, he began rolling the leaves into cigars. It's impossible to imagine him doing anything else for a living.
"I'll never forget my father, when he took the tobacco down from the cujes in the curing barn," says Padrón, using the term for the long sticks that hold tobacco leaves as they turn from green to rich brown. "He said, 'Tobacco leaves are like women: the more you stroke them the better they get.'" He lets out his infectious, hearty laugh, a half-smoked, box-pressed Padrón clenched in his hand.
"When I was younger, my first job was to clean the seedbeds in Cuba," he says. As a young boy of 13 or 14, he would smoke cigars on the sly in a barn. "In Cuba, none of the children smoked [publicly] before the age of 18. They had a lot of respect for their parents and didn't want to smoke in front of them."
The Padróns, like many tobacco farmers in Cuba before Castro's ascension to power, traced their heritage back to the Canary Islands. Josè Orlando's ancestors came to Cuba in the late 1800s. Dámasco Padrón, his grandfather, was the first in his direct family to grow tobacco in Cuba. All the children worked in the family business, but young Josè Orlando clearly made a special connection with the rich, supple leaves grown in the Vuelta Abajo.
"When it was time to turn a pilón [a pile of fermenting tobacco], it was more interesting than to go see a movie," he says. "If you're not in love with this business, it's very difficult to do things the right way."
Josè Orlando has passed on his enthusiasm to his sons. Jorge, 38, is the president of the company, and Orlando, 49, is vice president. "We live, breathe and eat tobacco," says Jorge. "Ever since I've been little, I've always worked in this business."
After earning a master's degree in business administration, Jorge went on a few interviews, but never really doubted that he would soon be selling cigars for his father. The company was doing well in those days, but sales were concentrated in Miami. Sales on a unit level, if not by revenues, were actually higher for Padrón Cigars in the early 1980s than they are now.
"When I came into the business [in 1981—82] all the Cubans in Miami smoked Padrón cigars," says Jorge. "In 1981, my father sold six million cigars, practically all in Miami. I always knew that we had a good product, an excellent product, but I also knew we had many, many markets we hadn't tapped."
"For me," says Josè Orlando, "I saw it as an opportunity to expand the business, because he spoke English. Traditionally, all the interaction had been with Spanish-speaking people."
Jorge worked on expanding Padrón and, in 1993, took his family's cigars to the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show for the first time. He found that his cigars' low cost and dark appearance were a detriment. Padrón cigars weren't an early hit, not until the 1994 release of the superpremium Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series. Since then, the only real problem has been making enough cigars to meet the demand.
For most of its 42-year-history, Padrón Cigars Inc. was run out of a cramped building on Miami's West Flagler Street, which served as its headquarters, the packing and shipping operations, and a small retail shop. The staff sat at desks crowded in the main room. Much of the staff is family, including Jorge's mother, Flory, his sisters, Lisette Padrón-Martinez and Elizabeth, his nephew Marcos Soto, and his cousin, Rodolfo Padrón, known as Crazy Rudy, for the time he picked up a bomb left at the headquarters.
Two years ago, the family relocated to a much larger headquarters around the corner. Space here is abundant: Josè Orlando has a large, corner office. Jorge and Orlando have spacious offices down the hall, but it's obvious from one look that they are rarely used. In Orlando's office, items sit in boxes, still unpacked.
Old habits and familial bonds are hard to break. The Padróns spend most of their time in the shipping area, near one another, or in Josè Orlando's office, talking, reminiscing and laughing. On this day, Jorge and his father are sitting in the chairman's office, smoking short Padrón Serie 1926 No. 35 cigars and arguing over Josè Orlando's complicated plan to restock owners of the Padrón Millennium humidor. Jorge thinks it's a bad idea. It takes more than an hour (plus the advice of two visitors and a call to a trusted cigar retailer) to convince him otherwise. Then it's time to discuss Josè Orlando's upcoming 80th birthday, and a cigar that will be made to commemorate the occasion. How about an eight-inch cigar? Josè Orlando scrunches his face. He doesn't like cigars that long.
The arguing is light hearted, sprinkled with good-natured ribbing. Jorge can't help but smile repeatedly, and gives as good as he gets.
"I did the same thing with my children as my father did with me in Cuba," says Josè Orlando. "I always hoped Jorge would get into the business. He was never disconnected from the business. In the back of my mind, I always knew he would end up here.
"I feel, in a way, lucky, and in a way very excited," he says. "Many of the people who were tobacco growers in Cuba, their sons went in different directions, away from the tobacco." He takes a puff, and pauses. "I've always been very persistent in maintaining the tradition, and passed it on."