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The Padrón Family Legacy: Making exceptional cigars that bring people together

As a Cuban-American businessman, Jorge Padrón, the president of Padrón Cigars, is at the helm of a successful cigar manufacturer, yet he still holds the same entrepreneurial spirit that his father José Orlando Padrón passed down to him many years ago. He vividly remembers the lessons in humility his father imparted to the Padrón family.

“In terms of my dad’s history - all the setbacks he struggled through and all his deals he imparted to us,” Jorge explained from his Miami, Florida office, “he taught us that if you focus on the right things, everything else tends to take care of itself.”

JOPadron 600x400Padrón said his father had a fighting spirit that never wavered. “Basically, my dad and I always had the mentality that it takes years and years to build a brand,” Padrón said, “and it took hundreds of thousands of cigars to do that. To this day, every single cigar we hand craft has to be perfect.”

His great-grandfather Damaso Padrón left the Canary Islands and emigrated to Cuba in the late 1800s and eventually purchased property and began growing tobacco. “My family was strictly in the business of growing tobacco - sorting and deveining the leaf, and then selling it to the leaf brokers,” Padrón said.

The Padrón family business produces a product that has long acted as a social lubricant for corporate leaders. Smoking might be banned in the boardroom today, but executives at some of the world’s largest corporations, and those in public service, still enjoy a good cigar. Smoking a cigar is different from “smoking,” many claim. Unlike cigarettes, which are a habit, cigars are a hobby. The list of people who enjoy the hobby reads like a who’s who of the rich, famous and powerful - from business mogul to politicians to Hollywood’s elite.

Jorge quoteDespite the A-listers who enjoy a good cigar, the road to success for the Padrón family wasn’t easy. In fact, the first lesson José Padrón learned in the industry was a tough one: he could not become an overnight success in the cigar business. The days and nights grew long and tedious, especially when it came to developing the proper blend of leaf, which today is the signature Padrón brand. It was an arduous journey.

“You learn how to handle things a certain way,” Jorge Padrón says with a hint of confidence. “We have a pretty good understanding of who we are, and that doesn’t change. We continue to do those things that make us successful. We try to stay focused as opposed to going in a thousand different directions.”

In the beginning, Padrón knew that building the business would be difficult. “Throughout the history of our company there have been many hardships. There have been many successes. But I think all these things make you a better person, a better company," he said.

When Fidel Castro took over the Presidential Palace in 1959, his father left Cuba for Spain. Thereafter he made his way to New York and eventually he saved enough by doing odd jobs to move to Miami, where the Cuban Refugee Program paid him $60 a month while he searched for work. He found jobs cutting lawns by day and doing carpentry by night.

JP 400x400Padrón says his father’s ambition led to the launch of a cigar company in Miami in 1964. José had socked away enough money to rent a small storefront in Little Havana; he hired a cigar roller and turned out 200 cigars a day.

Looking back, Jorge said that under his father’s guidance the family built a thriving cigar business against insurmountable obstacles. Their success is as much a testament to the tenacity of José’s vision as it is to the quality of a Padrón cigar. Having survived two wars in Nicaragua (where their tobacco is grown) - the overthrow of the Somoza regime and the Contra wars of the 1980s, four bombings and an attempted kidnapping, the elder Padrón built his cigar empire into what it is today, producing more than 3.5 million cigars a year, some of which rank among the very best in the world.

Padrón recalled the event as if they happened yesterday. “After a couple of bombings at the factory, my father put up a slogan by the Cuban poet José Martí,” he said. “It read, ‘Men are created into two groups, those who love and create and those who hate and destroy.’” Printed in big, bold letters, his father adamantly hung up the sign in front of his Miami factory which the bombs had been placed. “In other words, this is what I believe. I think at the end of the day the people realized he was right and they purchased his cigars.”

Like his tales of countless hardships and humble triumphs, Padrón says a great many tales fill smoke-filled cigar rooms across the United States and around the world. “You hear stories of important deals happening while smoking a cigar, but you never know ...”

Padrón agrees that, obviously, people of wealth and power have historically indulged in fine hand-crafted cigars imported from Cuba and Central America. From corporate lawyers to powerful ad men, business magnates to the super-wealthy, many have enjoyed firing up a good cigar at some point in time while conducting business.

HumCigars400x500“Cigars are a unique product that bring people together,” Padrón said. “From different backgrounds, political beliefs, and without question, there have been many important decisions made while smoking cigars among our friends and colleagues.”

He added, for example, “You might find an attorney sitting next to an accountant, sitting next to a plumber, sitting next to a mailman, sitting next to a police officer, and when they smoke a cigar, everyone is on the same page.”

Padrón noted that the cigar world draws an eclectic crowd. “It’s very unique for me.” he said. "It’s very rewarding for me to be around it. You meet a lot of good people. The most beautiful thing is how it brings strangers together.”

The exclusive cigar clubs in many cities serve as magnets for cigar enthusiasts. The industry has grown rapidly over the past five years as well, with $1 billion in total revenue nationwide and more than 4,700 cigar lounges operating in the United States, according to IBIS World, a market research firm. The number of cigar lounges, IBIS noted, has continued to increase, even as government regulators clamp down on cigarettes and e-cigarettes, and the industry’s outlook appears stable. Given how many deals are sealed inside said lounges’ that’s a good thing. It may be safe to say that the country’s cigar lounges boost other industries simply by providing an informal space outside the boardroom for business discussions.

The Terminator and former California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, recently opposed new anti-tobacco regulations that were set to shutter the Grand Havana Room, an elite cigar club and fixture of the Beverly Hills business community last March. The former chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness wrote a letter to the Beverly Hills City Council asking that the club be exempt from the city’s new blanket ban on tobacco sales.

“It is unthinkable that the city might adopt a policy that would intentionally or unintentionally cause the close of his character-defining institution, and it should not do so,” Schwarzenegger wrote in his letter to the city’s Health and Safety Commission.

The lesson for businessmen, executives and politicians alike is that the hobby still brings people together, and it helps to seal the deal over a good cigar.

JorgePadron300x500Jorge Padrón never takes a customer for granted in the cigar business. “Convincing a customer to smoke our cigars is a daily thing,” he said. “You might think you have a loyal customer, but you have to continue to make the product they expect, because it only takes a couple of bad cigars to lose them.”

When he first opened Padrón Cigars, José Padrón’s Cuban seed cigars sold for 25 cents, and they turned out to be a hot commodity within the Cuban-American community. Several years later he added a small platoon of cigar rollers. By then his production soared to 7,000 cigars per day.

In 1970 the Padrón family had a vision to expand their cigar brand. In dire need of experienced cigar workers, the senior Padrón ventured out and set up his Tabacos Cubanica Company in Estelí, Nicaragua, where they still grow their fine tobacco leaf today.

Jorge Padrón chuckles when he mentions the little hammer, which his father used to do odd carpentry jobs when he came to Miami. The family still has “el martillito” (the little hammer), and it serves as a reminder of José Padrón’s humble beginnings. “It is an important part of our family legacy,” says Jorge.

 

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