Nick Perdomo Jr. has achieved the American dream par excellence. After 26 years in the cigar business and approaching his midfifites, he manages a company that has more than 4,000 employees, cultivates 1,200 acres of tobacco land and has a production capacity of 80,000 cigars per day. About the actual output he shrouds himself in silence. His brand is considered a standard in humidors around the globe. It’s no surprise that investors are constantly lining up, offering enticing takeover bids. “My family would be financially set up for generations,” Nick says thoughtfully. “But I have more to leave behind than a company that is free of any debt. If my kids preferred to work in a different industry, I’d probably have less scruples. But in Nicholas and Natalie I see euphoric successors who want to take over and live Perdomo Cigars with heart and soul.” Of course, neither the 26-year-old business economist nor his young sister Natalie, a prospective lawyer, are getting the family inheritance served up on a tray. Nick and his wife, Janine, are too “old school” for that. They’re not going to let their offspring slip into supposed predetermined roles. “Simply being the son is not enough,” the patriarch states clearly. “I’m glad that Nicholas sees it this way, too.” Under no circumstances does the youngest man of the dynasty –he is now old as his father was when he founded the firm – play the junior boss. He prefers to prepare himself for this role thoroughly: “I have huge respect and esteem for the work of my father, grandfather and great-grandfather. I will not risk what they created. That happens in many companies where heirs take on a job that they’re not (yet) able to cope with. I have to find my way first … that will come soon.”
Nicholas III still has the black-and-white floor tiles in the small factory on 7111 West Flagler Street in South Miami clearly in his mind. It was the first real corporate address of the Perdomos after the garage, which was initially temporary. As an air traffic controller at Miami International Airport, he had a fulfilling, if hard, job, but in everyday life he missed the essence of his heritage: tobacco. Despite all the time and financial hardships, he started his production in the aforementioned garage as Nick’s Cigar Company and sold an impressive 9,500 cigars in the year of his son’s birth (1992). David Garofalo of 2 Guys Smoke Shops in New Hampshire was one of his first customers and still maintains: “To know this man is an honor for me.” When Nick later went on a road tour, he washed his underwear in the hotel room, combed the phone books column by column during the day for tobacco shops and was on the road for up to three months at a time, driven by the desire to some day make it. At the end of 1994 he was able to give his father some good news: “Dad, I’ve sold a million cigars!” That was the mainspring for the start of cigar production in Nicaragua. His son Nicholas has fond memories of West Flagler Street: “I see myself sitting on the lap of a roller, who by the way still works for us today, and I remember that I kept fetching cigars in order to imitate what father and grandfather were constantly doing.” Literally growing up in the cigar factory is no exaggeration for Nicholas. This is where he first started to walk. For his parents and grandparents, the little one was the sugar-sweet Mister Wonderful – and the other way around.
Let’s go back a bit. Born in San José de las Lajas, Cuba, Nick Senior learned cigar handicraft in Havana, like his father Silvio Perdomo before him. Some insiders don’t know that in Cuba the Perdomos de facto wrote cigar history: in the 1940s and 1950s, both, father as well as son, worked themselves up to top positions in the legendary factories of Partagás and H. Upmann. For decades, Nick’s uncle José Perdomo was a minister … responsible for tobacco. He has also appeared as the author of a comprehensive tobacco lexicon. Castro’s revolution alone put a terrible end to their careers. Silvio Perdomo was jailed for 14 years. His son, Nick Sr. survived gunshot wounds from the revolution only thanks to some Uruguay embassy employees, who covered the severely injured Nick with a country flag to protect him from further gunfire. It is no surprise, then, that Nick Sr. resolutely carried out the exodus of his family from their homeland until the last member had left the island. Back to the earlier years. The penny for his future career path dropped for Nicholas when he began high school. “My parents had gone out, and one night I indulged in a Perdomo Habano Corojo Presidente, that is, a really large caliber. I had music on, was puffing away, and thought, ‘Wow, this thing is really good.’ Back then, probably for the first time, I was thinking what it would be like to follow in those footsteps.”
The first blend that he was actively involved in was the Perdomo’s Factory Tour Blend four or five years ago. Nicholas is one of the top salespeople in the family company and is often at the top of the employees rankings with the most sales pitches. Although recently married, he is seen around Estelí regularly. The factory, which since it was built in 1999 the locals call “El Monstro” (88,000 square feet), is currently being expanded into gigantic hi-tech warehouses. The level of technology used here is completely new to the industry – from the computerized access control for each and every person to fully automatic climate control to underground water distillation. In El Monstro or on the plantations, which the family has been farming for 19 years, Nicholas tackles whatever needs to be tackled. On the most recent farm called Finca Natalie (named after his sister), an irrigation system was installed that individually waters every one of the 86 lots within the crater rim with exactly the amount of water and nutrients that soil, location and sunlight require. This is high technology that cannot be bought off the shelf, contrived by father and son together with scientists from all over the world. “I want to understand, know, and be able to handle everything,” affirms Nicholas. To subordinate himself is a matter of course. Until recently, he addressed Arthur Kemper, the company’s long-time vice president and his father’s right-hand man, with “sir.” He knows that his place in the hierarchy is not God-given.
Natalie also spent her childhood summers in Estelí: “Every day was a lesson in agriculture, tobacco processing or in playing Dominos. We are going to pass on the passion of our parents and grandparents to our own children. Perdomos will be present in this branch for a long time. I’d put my hand in the fire for that.” As a lawyer, one day she wants to help fight the regulations against premium cigars. “I will fight for our family and for the rights of our consumers. Generations of Perdomos have already overcome the biggest adversity. I will do that, too.” Perdomo Cigars is not only one of the most modern and probably the most innovative companies in the industry. Explaining all the inventions devised by Nick Perdomo (see also CJ 1/2011), is beyond the scope of this story. But anyone who fancies a multi-day cigar academy should take part in a Perdomo factory tour (see CJ 2/2012). More than 1,000 retailers and their best customers do it every year. For example, Jirˇi Rabel, Perdomo’s distributor in the Czech Republic, or Ramon Zapata Pérez from Spain. As for so many others, these days are the most impressive of their long careers in the business. Perdomo is one of the top five cigar brands in the world and, above all, holds a top place in the United States. Last year, five million cigars were sold in the US of the Perdomo Reserve Champagne alone. “That’s like our Coca Cola, so to speak. Almost every tobacco shop carries our Reserve Champagne,” says Nicholas proudly. Over the past five years, the sales of Perdomo cigars has doubled. Probably also because Perdomo as a company is strictly on a customer-friendly course: maximum quality plus minimal profit results in optimum customer loyalty, true to Nick Perdomo’s motto: “To win a loyal customer may take you years. But it only takes a few minutes to lose one.”
Copyright Images: Juan Manuel Garcia