Last Word: Who We Are

For many years, I did not have a close relationship with my brother. Our lives had taken us to different places. A phone call on Feb. 21, 2008, the same morning of my youngest daughter’s birthday, changed our lives forever.

My mother had a devastating stroke. Three-quarters of the right hemisphere of her brain were affected. She had a 10 percent chance of survival, and the brain damage was permanent. No more walking, talking or even moving. I would never listen to my mother singing with her beautiful voice. I would never again hear her wise counsel.

Her pain and suffering brought my brother and me back together. We fought together. We cried together. We found solutions together. Our differences were forgotten. We became a team.

Let’s stop and think about our virtues, about our social and emotional skills. Most of them weren’t developed through sophisticated training or years of study. They were built at home—sometimes in hard times, sometimes though tough conversations around a dinner table, sometimes by cooking together or simply playing with friends in the backyard.

I believe our best qualities are born from a persistent willingness to sacrifice comfort and convenience to help each other. From the small needs of everyday life to extreme situations, we move forward through generosity. We move forward when we choose to see the accomplishments of others instead of their mistakes. When others fail, we shouldn’t be passive. We should help them start over. We should care for them. We should show them love.

Maybe that’s not a traditional business model. Rarely do organizations supplant self-centered or purely financial interests in favor of mutual benefit. Deep inside all of us we want to belong, to be together, to celebrate together and fight together—even suffer together. That’s love: love for each other and for the values that unite us. It is the feeling of serving the greater good—a divine force that brings out the best of our human nature.

Here are good examples: Many years ago I met my friend Ernesto Perez-Carrillo. Ernie befriended me without expecting anything in return. He made me feel accepted in the premium cigar tribe (mi Padriño!). Ernie’s passion for premium cigars captured my heart. His willingness to teach, to mentor and to truly invest time for the sake of the art was astounding. 

I also met Eradio Pichardo, who welcomed me as his brother. As a fourth-generation tobacco agriculturalist, Pichardo never stopped mentoring me. He didn’t have to do any of this. His generosity grew out of his passion to teach the sacred art of tobacco. 

A few years later I had the privilege to be mentored by the late Arsenio Ramos. His willingness to pass on his knowledge demonstrated his altruistic and passionate heart. It revealed his true passion for our premium cigar brotherhood. He made me understand that what we call “the tobacco industry” is actually a great household, driven by passion and dedication, where the main objective is to perpetuate a culture and a lifestyle.

I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that sustaining families in Nicaragua, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Honduras, as well as Miami and Chicago, is far more important than personal financial success. I believe this to be the sentiment for most of my colleagues as well.

In early February, as a new member of the Associate Members Advisory Board (AMAB) to PCA, I had the privilege to sit with my colleagues Mike Conder, Alan Rubin, Christian Eiroa and Rocky Patel with the PCA Board to think about the future of PCA. I witnessed passionate men willing to sacrifice their time and resources for the collective well-being of our society—for both retailers and manufacturers.

Together with my colleagues of the AMAB, CRA and PCA, we met to focus our message on what really matters: to call out our UNITY, to remember the very reason why we exist as manufactures and retailers, and to remind ourselves that we are united by the common values and our passion for premium cigars.

Just as the nutrients come from the soil and run through the roots and veins of a tobacco plant, so should the love and passion for premium cigar people run in our veins. Humanity is worth more than money. Personal relationships and the human interactions generated by the social gatherings around premium cigars are worth far more than the product itself. In our culture, ethics are not compromised, nor are personal interests placed in front of the collective well-being.

We live in difficult times and our house is under attack. This is the time to stand together, to shout out that we are united! From FDA regulations to large corporations defending their interests, there is a clear attempt to destabilize this vast collective of retailers, manufacturers, distributors and farmers.

Recently four large companies announced they will not attend the most important premium cigar trade show in the world. This, however, has not deterred other manufacturers, such as Rocky Patel, Fuentes, J.C. Newman, CLE, Alec Bradley, Crowned Heads, A.C.E. Prime, Tatuaje, Padron, Plasencia, AJ Fernandez, My Father Cigars, Gurkha and many others (who probably make up 90 percent of the premium cigars available on the shelves of retailers), from declaring their full support and presence at the PCA Trade Show.

For this handful of corporations, profit, power, and control come before the values and passion of the premium cigar industry. But they are not our enemy. Our true adversary is our own disunity, indifference, skepticism and the inability to see common grounds and inexorable values. Selfishness should have no place in our society. Misinformation, rumors and speculation should have no voice in our media outlets.

In our families, we learn the noblest values, we sacrifice for each other, we fight for each other. So should it be in our premium tobacco community. We must learn:

To coexist 

This virtue is based on the common commitment to place people and their future above personal satisfaction, even if it bruises our pride. In our home, justice does not apply as in civil society. Among husband, wife, children and brothers, distress must be relieved through abundance of good.

Persist

A strong home is the foundation from which we grow into useful bodies. Children are taught to walk, to run, to ride a bike. They are supported during the hard work of studying for a critical exam. They are comforted as they try to win another’s heart. It is this foundational support that generates the great entrepreneurs who influence the world for the better. It is this kind of intrinsic support that allows communities such as ours to innovate, to thrive and to grow.

Resist

Temperance toward behaviors contrary to morality can be difficult, but it pays off. A truly authentic person feels more satisfied by being true to personal convictions than by giving in to the influence of unreliable, self-interested players.

Celebrate and have fun!

Families should live joyfully together. Remember that joke told after Sunday’s barbecue, when even the most serious of uncles was unable to contain his laughter? At the end of day, that familial joviality is what we want. I’m reminded of this after walking through the corridors of the PCA Trade Show and running into cherished friends and trusted colleagues. We have a conversation. We share good bourbon and fine cigars. 

As we spend time together, there blooms among us an immutable bond. That feeling, that emotion inside your chest when you know that we are united by the same passion. This worthy organization, this vast array of interdependent professionals, of clients and suppliers, of distant friends is more than just a business collective working together to make a buck. We are greater than the sum of our parts.

We are Family!