The Padrón family, one of the preeminent clans in the cigar business, has an origin story as rich and complex as their finest smoke. It started in 1880, when the Padrón ancestors emigrated from the Canary Islands to Cuba, growing tobacco, then took a dramatic turn when the clan’s patriarch, Jose Orlando, was forced to flee the Castro regime and start fresh in the United States. Fifty years later, his son, 47-year-old Jorge Padrón, is running the show, with the thoughtful guidance of his father and consigliere.
My father left Cuba in ’61. At that time, the U.S. government had this programme to give all the Cubans coming in financial help, and the basic goods they needed. My father was eligible for that, and in his own words, he felt like a parasite taking that money. To go and get a R700 check each month really bothered him, so he refused. In Miami, in the early ’60s, he realised there were a lot of Cubans coming in, and there wasn’t a cigar of the quality he was used to smoking in Cuba, so he decided to start a cigar company. He started doing construction jobs in Miami in ’62–’63, and with the money he earned, he started Padrón Cigars.
My father encouraged us to work in the business, and by “encouraged” I mean, “Either you do this, or you’re going to be in big trouble.” So it was a very easy decision for me. Spending holidays getting up at 6 A.M. is not great when your friends are going to the beach. But it helps form a certain mentality. It was good for us.
Once I graduated, I made the decision to come into the business, and I realised it had
grown significantly. The first 50 years have been an incredible roller-coaster ride for my dad. Me, not so much. I came in at a time when things were beginning to stabilise in Nicaragua, and I’ve certainly had a much more stable industry environment. But there was a lot more that could be done, and that’s what led me to get into it.
Being part of a family business is a really great thing in a lot of ways. Myself, my brother, my sister, all my siblings work here. We have nephews, nieces, cousins, we have family that’s been working with us in Nicaragua for 40 years. In some businesses, nepotism is frowned upon, but in ours, it’s really encouraged.
At 89, obviously my dad has slowed down. But he still comes in every day. He’s delegated a lot of the day-to-day responsibility to us, but he knows I’m always thinking about the long-term vision that he tried to instil in us.
Titles don’t mean anything in a family business. Everybody who works in the company has to be on board with what we’re
trying to do. But at the end of the day, there has to be one chief, and a lot of Indians. The important thing is to set the example, and make sure everyone falls in line, and when they don’t, you have to let them know they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
In the next 50 years, we have to do what we’ve done in the first 50, focus on quality. Don’t overreach with production. The consumers who trust our product know we’re not going to mess around. They know we’re going to do what we have to do to make sure the quality is there. If we have to reduce production, we’re not afraid to do that. We’ve done it many times in the past.
There are a lot of steps in making great cigars. It all starts with seed selection, proper fertilisation, and soil analysis, careful attention to detail. Every step has to be perfect to make sure the final product is what you expect it to be. It takes a lot of organisation and skill from people working in different areas of the operation, and they need to know the company’s philosophy, and to follow it through all the way.
If the embargo is lifted, while we would never abandon Nicaragua, we would absolutely return to Cuba. There’s no question. I think if we have an opportunity to go back to our roots and establish some sort of presence there, that would be phenomenal. As for the competition, I think we compete right now with Cuban cigars. I say bring ’em on. — G. Clay Whittaker