Written by Puff Staff

Friday, 15 March 2002

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Remember back when your parents told you "if you treat everyone with respect, and work hard every day your going to be successful"? When talking to Jorge and Jose Padron, one gets the feeling not only have they heard that saying, but they live it every day. Remember back when your parents told you "if you treat everyone with respect, and work hard every day your going to be successful"?  When talking to Jorge and Jose Padron, one gets the feeling not only have they heard that saying, but they live it every day.

In Top25Cigars continuing effort to bring you an inside look at the people who lead the cigar industry, we proudly present our interview with the Padron's.  Yes, we were long winded, yes we did ask them 30 questions, and yes we did vary the subject.  But here your going to see the real people. The real people involved with making a line of cigars that are at once, affordable, available, and enjoyable, not an easy combination to pull off.  Our thanks go out to the Padron's for spending their valuable time with us, and in doing so showing they care about the people who enjoy their creations.  They could have easily held their time for the "monster" publications, but here they are, answering your questions and ours.

On their cigars...

T25C - What brands do you currently produce, could you share with us some of the history behind those brands?

Jose & Jorge Padron - Padron Cigars was founded in 1964 with the goal of producing cigars for Miami's Cuban community that sorely missed their homeland and their cigars. In those days, our brand consisted of 6 sizes, the largest of which was a 46-ring gauge. Throughout the years our brand grew, and I can proudly say that to date we have sold over 140 million cigars in our 37-year history. In 1994 we introduced the Padron 1964 Anniversary Series. The idea was to create a limited production cigar using the best tobaccos we had at our disposal. Remembering the old Cuban cigars of my youth, I decided that the Anniversary Series cigars should be box pressed. At the time, my sons and I always received strange looks when we handed someone a box pressed Anniversary cigar. The comment was usually the same: " I have never seen a square cigar ." For the Millennium we introduced the Pardon 1964 Series Millennium cigar, which consisted of a onetime production of 100,000 cigars. In addition to the Padron line of cigars, we also produce a short filler line of bundle cigars named Jose L. Piedra.

T25C - It seems cigar manufacturers always have to be re-inventing themselves; do you have any new lines of cigars in the works?

Jose & Jorge Padron - One of the things that I have always tried to instill in my family is to focus their approach to the business. The pillar on which Padron Cigars is based is "Quality and not Quantity". We are proud not because of the amount of cigars that we produce but instead because of the quality of what we are producing. Padron Cigars is not into reinventing itself-- we want to preserve our century old family traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. We are always experimenting with new blends and tobaccos but rest assured that any future line introductions, if any, would maintain the Padron style.

T25C - Your 1964 Anniversario Series is always a contender in the Top25 list. What inspired you to create this line of cigars, and what do you believe has been the driving factors in keeping it so popular?

Jose & Jorge Padron - As I mentioned in one of your other questions, the 1964 Anniversary Series was introduced to commemorate our 30th Anniversary in business. We felt that we could dedicate our best tobacco to this line, and all the tobacco used had to be aged for four years. There are several factors that contribute to its success, but the one that I believe most important is the respect that we have for our consumers and their discriminating taste. While demand for the 1964 Anniversary Series has always outweighed production we have never wanted to rush the natural process that the tobacco demands in order to establish and maintain consistent quality. Our production of the 1964 Anniversary Series has never grown by more than 8% in one year.

T25C - What would be your reply to a comment that the Anniversario line isn't quite what it used to be?

Jose & Jorge Padron - We consider it very important to stay informed of what our customers think of our products. Unfortunately, it is impossible for us to try every cigar that we make. Throughout our 37-year history we have always encouraged our customers to inform us if they feel that our products are not up to the quality standards that we have established or that they expect. To date, the response to our products has been positive. The negative comments have usually stemmed from the counterfeit boxes that are in the marketplace. We believe that there have been thousands of such boxes sold. These counterfeit products do nothing but tarnish our name and goodwill, as well as all legitimate cigar manufacturers. If there are any specific questions or comments regarding our products please feel free to call us at 800-453-5635.

T25C -  Do you plan on using tobacco from countries other than Nicaragua in the future? Why?

Jose & Jorge Padron - We currently have inventory of raw material to last for 5 years of production. If for any unknown reason we would need to look for alternative sources of raw material we would do so carefully so as to maintain the Padron style.

T25C -  Most of the cigar manufacturers who grow their own tobacco grow filler and binder only. Are you growing wrapper also?

Jose & Jorge Padron - Yes. We obtain our wrappers from the same plants that produce our filler and binders. All our tobacco is Sun Grown Habano. Each plant has between 16 to 18 leaves, from which we obtain all three types of tobaccos. Usually two to four of the leaves are useful for wrapper. Each leaf is put into hands, which are then cured and fermented using water and the natural heat that the tobacco itself produces. Not all the leaves that are initially sorted as wrapper will necessarily end up as wrappers. After the initial fermentation many leaves will be resorted as binders. For this reason the wrapper yield is not always as high as it appears at first.

T25C -  How do you manage to maintain consistency and quality, and at the same time keep your cigars affordable?

Jose & Jorge Padron - It is difficult to be brief when answering this question because there are many factors that contribute to these attributes. First, I want to say, that I have been smoking cigars since I was sixteen years old, and this year I will be turning 75. I understand what a cigar smoker looks for in a brand and how difficult it is to earn and maintain their respect and loyalty. In 1964, I founded my company with one cigar roller and in the thirty-seven years since then I have only increased our production when I could assure myself that I had enough tobacco to maintain our blend and quality. Opening my factory in Nicaragua gave me the opportunity to grow and process my own tobacco. Today, with enough tobacco for five years of production, we have a vertically integrated cigar company that controls all aspects of its business. By growing and processing our tobacco we assure ourselves that it is harvested and cured the way we want it done to achieve and maintain our blends. We also distribute our cigars directly to retail stores all across the country. The savings that we incur by being vertically integrated allow us to offer our cigars at prices that offer the most value to our consumers. We have always striven to keep price increases to a minimum increasing only when adjustments were absolutely necessary. With the exception of the Executive and the Magnum in the Padron line we have not had a price increase in four years. These particular cigars were adjusted due to weight and size considerations.

T25C -  Do you use any processes that you consider "unique" in the manufacturing of your cigars?

Jose & Jorge Padron -  When growing, curing and fermenting and manufacturing our cigars we use the same methods I was taught 60 years ago. I follow the guidance of my grandfather and father, always with sufficient tobacco to maintain our blends and manufacture the best possible cigars.

T25C - What cigars outside of your own do you enjoy? Along those lines, have you patterned your business after others you admired?

Jose & Jorge Padron - When I started my factory in 1964, my main objective was to create a brand that would have the same quality of the H. Upmann brand that I smoked in Cuba in the 1950's. In those days all the H. Upmanns were manufactured with Habano sun grown wrappers. I realized that I had accomplished my objective when not long after I had opened my business, a gentleman approached me with a business opportunity. He had 10,000 empty boxes of H. Upmann and he was willing to pay me $10.00 a bundle for my cigars to fill the boxes. In those days, I was selling a bundle of cigars for $ 6.00. I immediately explained to him that although I was just starting and times were not easy, money was not my objective. I wanted to sleep comfortably at night. I knew that my brand would be the same as those brands that enjoyed the most prestige from Cuba.

On their company...

T25C - What makes Padron Cigars different from other cigar companies?

Jose & Jorge Padron - There are several factors that differentiate our company from other cigar companies. Some of which are as follows; first, we have always looked at customer's complaints as constructive and as a way to improve our products. Second, throughout our 37-year history, we have only used sun grown tobacco for our cigars. Third, to allow for uniformity in our blends, we have always maintained a five years supply of tobacco from different regions of Nicaragua. Last, throughout our history we have only produced one brand of cigars, Padron.

T25C - When and why did you move your manufacturing to Nicaragua?

Jose & Jorge Padron - From 1964 to 1970 we were having trouble meeting demand with our factory in Miami. I had the opportunity to try Nicaraguan tobacco and felt that it would be appropriate to open a factory close to my farms there.

T25C - Are counterfeit Anniversarios still a problem for you? What are your company and the cigar industry doing about it?

Jose & Jorge Padron - Counterfeit cigars continue to be a problem for our company. We estimate that there are thousands of counterfeit cigars in the marketplace. To date, we have brought legal action in three states and investigations are ongoing. So far, we have made two significant changes to our packaging that we feel will give our products and consumers more security. The first change was made to the hinges. All boxes shipped as of August of 2000 have hinges that bear the "PADRON" name. Secondly, in February of this year, we added a secondary band to our original Anniversary band. Each new band is numbered and is placed beneath the original Anniversary band. Each cigar within a box will contain a different serial number. We urge all consumers looking for Padron 1964 Anniversary Series products to look for these changes. If there are any questions regarding these issues please call us at 800-453-5635.

T25C - What was the impact of Hurricane Mitch on your business? 

Jose & Jorge Padron - Hurricane Mitch destroyed our farm in Nicaragua by sweeping away its topsoil. Fortunately, it was not harvest season and we had no tobacco in the fields. Nevertheless, the farm has been rendered useless.

T25C - You have factories in Nicaragua and Honduras. Are there differences between the two in terms of size and the products that come from them?

Jose & Jorge Padron - The difference between the two plants is size and the functions that they perform. The Honduran facility functions strictly as a production plant. The Nicaraguan facilities serve many purposes such as warehousing of raw material, sorting and deveining, fermentation and production. All our tobacco is grown in Nicaragua and then shipped to our warehouses in Nicaragua to be processed. Once the tobacco is processed it is then shipped to the factories for use in production. There is no difference between the products that are being produced.

T25C - You choose to grow your own tobacco. Why?

Jose & Jorge Padron - Growing our own tobacco allows for greater control of our raw material and the way it is processed. We decide when to grow, when to prime our tobacco and what fertilizer to use. It also gives us more flexibility to work with the tobacco from its initial stages and thus allow for our own fermentation methods. Additionally, it gives us the opportunity to grow our Sun Grown Habano whose wrapper is very difficult to produce because of its low yields.

T25C - What is the greatest strength of your company and products? 

Jose & Jorge Padron - There are many factors that make Padron a strong company. One of the most important is that we grow at our own pace with the primary objective being the quality of our cigars.

On politics...

T25C - When the Sandinistas were in power, Nicaragua had a very unstable, even dangerous, social and political environment. Do you have concerns about political and social unrest returning in the future?

Jose & Jorge Padron - All the problems that we faced in Nicaragua were overcome through the support of our employees, who responded with great loyalty. After having been away from Nicaragua for nearly a year they insisted that I return so we could continue working together. Many times during those years I found myself in very hostile situations. I feel confidant that those days are behind us and that the Nicaraguan people can continue to prosper.

T25C - If Cuba were to re-open in the future, would you go back and make cigars there?

Jose & Jorge Padron - The possibility of one day being able to do business in Cuba is obviously a very sensitive subject for me. I was born and raised in the tobacco fields of Pinar Del Rio. I remember my childhood of working in the tobacco fields and the pride that each tobacco farmer showed for his crop. The respect for their family name was reflected in the quality of their work. I would consider returning to a Cuba where we could work independently and freely. While we would never abandon our operations in Nicaragua, I hope that one day my family gets the opportunity to go back to where our tradition started.

On the cigar industry...

T25C -  Many "full bodied, box pressed, Nicaraguan" cigars have appeared on the market in the last few years in an apparent attempt to duplicate your success. Are you concerned, or flattered by their presence?

Jose & Jorge Padron -  The growth in the cigar industry over the last several years brought about many changes. Having had the opportunity to increase our production by 400% and take full advantage financially of the growth in the marketplace we chose instead to focus on making Padron the best and most solid brand it could be. In terms of the box pressed cigars we are not in the least bit concerned. Anybody can manufacture a box pressed cigar. Cigars are measured by their taste not shape. What is important to us is to produce quality cigars that are balanced and consistent in taste. When talking about full-bodied cigars I think it is important to note that there are two types of strength. First, we have cigars that are made with properly cured and fermented tobacco that produces well-balanced, full-bodied cigars. These cigars have a complex taste with their strength being more subtle. The other type of strength comes from using tobacco that is not properly aged or fermented. These cigars generally produce flavors that are very sharp and almost bitter. Our limited production ensures that all the tobacco that we use is aged for a minimum of 2 ½ years on the Padron line, 4 years on the 1964 Anniversary Series and 5 years on the 1964 Series Millennium.

T25C - What are the biggest changes have you seen in the industry during your career?

Jose & Jorge Padron - I have seen many changes. When I was growing up, the quality of the best cigars in the world, the Cuban cigars, was accomplished with the responsibility of many farmers and manufacturers. Cigar factories, in those days, had signs outside that read "Fabrica de Tobacco". They produced no more than 2 or 3 brands. Today the words "Fabrica de Tobacco" represent a warehouse that has been converted into a mass production facility. A cigar factory today may produce 20 or 30 different brands. Padron Cigars would never produce 20 or 30 brands under one roof because I believe that all cigars would then be the same. Companies speak of millions as if they were talking about hundreds. This, I believe, has brought the industry to take more pride in the quantity of the cigars that they produce rather than in the quality of what they are producing.

T25C - What will be the effect of the tremendous amount of consolidation in the cigar business?

Jose & Jorge Padron - Consolidation falls in line with some of the biggest changes I have seen in the cigar industry. Local retail stores and ultimately consumers will feel the biggest impact of consolidation. With fewer suppliers and more brands being introduced into the marketplace, many retailers could be forced to carry lines of cigars they might not otherwise carry. I believe that the responsibility for the long-term prosperity of our industry should fall not only on the manufacturers but also on the retailers who sell the products. To benefit their customers, tobacconists should represent and promote brands based on their individual merit and offer only those they feel add value to the products they are offering.

Specific questions we asked of questions for Orlando Jose Padron

T25C - Tell us what you did in the cigar industry in Cuba before you came to the US. 

Jose Padron -  From a very early age I was always involved in the tobacco industry. Having been raised on a farm I had the opportunity to work with tobacco in all its pre-industrial stages. By pre-industrial I mean all phases leading up to actual production of the cigar. On many occasions, I was also responsible for purchasing tobacco from other farmers which we would consolidate on our farm. I purchased and tested tobacco from many different regions of Cuba, including Piloto, Rio Hondo, San Juan y Martinez, La Grifa, Cortes, Dimas, Vinales and San Luis.

T25C - After arriving in the US, did you plan to be in the cigar business right away?

Jose Padron - I never anticipated being in the cigar business. But after having been in the U.S. for three years and not finding cigars that satisfied my taste, I decided to make my own cigars. I felt there were many Cuban cigar smokers who felt the same way I did, and that the time was right to try to fill there needs.

T25C - Has your life and business in the US turned out the way you wanted? 

Jose Padron - I feel extremely satisfied and proud with the way my life has turned out. I have a wonderful family that is totally committed to continuing our traditions. I have a brand and company that has endured many hardships and trials over the years. During these very difficult years we managed to maintain what I worked so hard to build, our customers' loyalty.

T25C - What is your hope for Cuba in the future?

Jose Padron - I hope that one day soon we can continue what we started many years ago. That my family have the opportunity to use tobacco from Cuba and develop new blends with all Cuban or Cuban and Nicaraguan tobacco.

Specific questions for Jorge Padron...

T25C - Help us understand how you got started in the cigar industry? How long have you been in the cigar business?

Jorge Padron - At the age of seven, after each school day, my father would put me to work in the seedbeds on our farm. My job was to pick small weeds that would grow between the young plants. Removal of these weeds, he explained, was very important to preserve the quality of the plant that would later be transplanted. "Cleaning the seedbed" was the first phase of the harvest process that included more than 25 or 30 steps or stages that needed to be carried out before the tobacco was taken into tobacco barns for drying. Once in the tobacco barns, each leaf is placed on a "cuje" where it is hung for drying. It is estimated that each leaf is touched approximately 150 times before it is used to manufacture a cigar.

T25C - If you could smoke only one cigar, in any one place, with any one person, what cigar would it be, where would you smoke it, and whom would you smoke it with?

Jorge Padron - I would love to have the opportunity to be with my great-grandfather, Damaso, my father, Francisco, and my sons. I would present them our line so they can try for themselves and see that their teachings were not in vain.

T25C - What was it like growing up in a cigar family?

Jorge Padron - As some of you may know working in a family business is not always easy. But I can honestly say that my experiences have been very rewarding. My mother, brother, sister and cousin all work in the business. We have sixteen full time employees in Miami, eight of whom are family members. We have a hands- on approach and position titles mean nothing. We all share responsibilities no matter what they consist of. All of the siblings realize the hardships that my father went through to open this business, and that a big reason for his success was the help he had from family members like my maternal grandfather Vicente Matilla who in the early days performed all sorts of tasks. My uncle Rodolfo Padron, after arriving from Cuba, also began to work with my father and was totally committed to establishing the Padron brand. All of us share one thing in common: we got into this business because we wanted to, not because we were forced. Over the years I have repeatedly heard my father say that the tobacco business gets in your blood. I truly believe that and all of us understand what we have at stake. We take a lot of pride in what we do and in the products that we put out into the market. We realize that every cigar that reaches a consumer's hands represents our family and its tradition and we value this very highly. This is why all Padron advertisements include the phrase, " When Padron is on the band, Quality is a matter of family honor".

T25C - You have a very well known and successful father in the cigar industry. Do you feel like you have to "follow in his foot steps" or duplicate his achievements?

Jorge Padron - For many years, I have been preparing myself for the future. I have been fortunate to have ten years, since graduation from college, to be at my father's side trying to absorb as much information as possible about our business. Many times I have said to friends that although I had 18 years of formal schooling, I feel that in the last 10 years working with my father I have learned much more. I hope that one I'll be able to give my son, Jorge Luis Jr., the same opportunity that I have been given by my father.

I have had the opportunity to understand what has made my father successful. I can assure you that his extensive knowledge of tobacco is only one of the factors in his success. I would say that even more important than his knowledge of tobacco is the respect that he has demonstrated for the traditions of this industry and its consumers. Do I feel I have to follow in his footsteps? I believe there is no other way to continue. For years, I have seen him make many sacrifices for our company. I believe that it is my responsibility to ensure that our company continues to prosper and provide its customers with the consistent quality they have come to expect. Do I feel I have to duplicate his achievements? My responsibility is to add to what I consider a very solid foundation. If we follow the course that he has set, there will undoubtedly be many new accomplishments in the future.

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