I have been asked many times why I smoke cigars. An easy answer would be “because I like them,” but for me cigars are more about the experience than they are about the tobacco. Don’t get me wrong I love a good cigar, but the reality is that there is nothing quite as great as a great conversation that comes about because of an excellent cigar. Over the last week I’ve got to have a few such conversations, when I spent some time down in the Dominican Republic with the great folks at General Cigar. To be honest it’s easy to sometimes write them off as just a giant faceless corporation, and many have done so, I’ll even admit that I’ve been guilty of it on occasion, but this week I learned an important lesson that 1st impressions aren’t always correct.
As large as General Cigar is, it’s a company dedicated to and for the people. Granted one could argue that they put on a show for the media group that went down there, but it’s hard to fake being genuine and the people I saw down there were certainly that. I may not personally love every line that General puts out, but after this week I have a respect for every line that they do put out. The folks at General Cigar work really hard to make the best product that they can. Their job is a difficult one because they have many different cigars and many different brands to think about. Throw in that they have to calculate trends, markets, and current demands, and it becomes a very hard equation to solve with a product that is in the end perishable. Despite their challenges though, General Cigar finds a way to make it all work.
Over the next week or so I’m going to be writing different stories about the various aspects of the journey that I took in the Dominican Republic. I was blessed to see that from seedling to finished product there is a complex company that works very hard to bring the highest quality premium cigar to the market. The story is as much about quality control and technology as it is about the people. If it wasn’t for the people the company would not be what it is today. From the buncheros to the torcedors, all the way up to those who blend and lead the company, everyone takes ownership of their roll and try’s to always put the best foot forward.
As I stated General Cigar is a large corporation, in fact they are attached to a larger parent company known as the Scandinavian Tobacco Group. Out of the premium cigar market in the US they are the largest premium cigar supplier and are probably the 2nd in the European markets. But as large as they are they still function in small groups of people to make excellent products. One important thing that I think is worth mentioning is that despite being a large corporation, they have an excellent employee retention rate. One of the most interesting things that I saw on the trip were the stories of the people who have been at General Cigar for longer than 20 to 30 years. Everybody I met had worked with General for multiple years and found it to be an excellent company. This surely is a testament to the strength of the company’s esprit de corps. Few companies I know can boast such loyalty, but for the folks at General Cigar for them it’s not as much a job as it is their passion.
One of the main reasons why I started writing about the cigar industry was because I was hoping to hear the interesting stories about the industry itself. I was curious as to what made the cigar blenders tick, the rollers roll, and the cigar innovators be creative. Hopefully over the next couple weeks you will follow me on my journey as I reveal to you what makes the folks at General Cigar tick. I spent a lot of time interviewing those who run the factory now and those who have guided the factory in the past. I hope you find them as interesting as I have. I would like to take this one last moment to thank General Cigar for their generosity and their transparency for showing us their operation and letting us talk and interact with their people in action. I also would like to thank Victoria McKee-Jaworski for setting this trip up, the busy people for taking the time to talk with us, and for Dan Carr allowing us to really explore and look at their operations.