“The day I graduated, my friends and I threw a big party, but at about five in the morning I took a shower, put on a suit and flew to New Orleans for the IPCPR. I kind of woke up in the airport, not remembering how I got there.”
Tony Gomez’s reply to when he joined his father and stepmother’s company, La Flor Dominicana, suggests there was little doubt, but that’s not entirely true. At college, the path was set differently.
“I’ve always wanted to do creative things. I played in a few bands in college, and I studied English with a major in writing and a minor in film studies. I even started to apply to film schools for graduate school. I wanted to study screenwriting, but then I thought about it. If you have an opportunity you’ve got to try it, and I was blessed enough that my father and stepmother invited me to be a part of this company they built.”
Litto and Ines Gomez started their company when Tony was around seven years old, so even though Tony grew up in his mother’s house, it was inevitable for him to be around tobacco. “I would spend weekends with my dad and sometimes he took me to the Dominican Republic when I was on vacation. So I spent time with him at the factory and in the office.”
He was 21 years old that early post-graduation morning, the day his father got to see his eldest son be part of what he and his wife had built.“My dad’s been great about this,” Tony tells me. “I’ve never felt pushed into it. Tobacco’s always been in the back of my mind, and as I said, I’m blessed with the opportunity. I had to at least try it. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t like it, but I fell in love with the whole thing very quickly. Within a year, I knew I was going to be here for the rest of my life. Hopefully.”
“People need to make their own choices,” Litto adds. “Pushing someone into something doesn’t work. Of course I was hoping for him to join us. There’s nothing like knowing there’s a next generation; that, whatever you’ve built, someone in the family will carry on. It’s a dream come true.” Tony’s career in tobacco began in sales when he started off as a sales rep in Florida.
“It was perfect,” Litto says. “He went to university in Tallahassee so he knew that area, and he’s a Latino from Miami so he knew the crowd down there. These are two very different crowds, so, normally, you’d need two people for this job.”
They both laugh, and Tony explains how he was thrown into the deep end by his dad.
“My father’s never held my hand. Of course he’s guided me, but he wanted me to learn on my own, to make my own mistakes. When I started, we were in between [hiring a] vice president of sales, so he gave me a list of customers and told me to figure it out. He threw me to the wolves, man!”
It hardly got better when they finally hired a vice president of sales. Tony would still call his dad whenever something came up. Finally, Litto told his son, “Look, you have a boss, call him and leave me alone.”
Four years later, Tony moved from Miami to the Dominican Republic and became vice president. Today he’s 30 years old and mainly works in marketing, with art work, and blending. “The closer I got to the company, the more I realized what an art form cigar making was. That’s really what made me want to stay, and, graciously, my father and Ines have let me be part of things I feel that I’m best at.”
To Litto, Tony is also a good link to the younger generation. “Every day, someone turns 18, and the link between us older guys and them isn’t very strong,” he says. “So having the younger generation involved really connects the company with the consumers.”
In that sense, there might soon be yet another generation coming up, closing the gap as Tony gets older. Litto and Ines’s oldest son, 17-year-old Litto Jr., is already showing a big interest in the cigar industry.
“He knows cigars, loves the industry and at the IPCPR he puts on his suit and tie and works all day. He’s never been asked to do that, and he remembers every name of the customers he’s met.” Being in a family company is, in many ways, different than being “just” an employee. Undoubtedly, you’re representing more than just the company name, which could add pressure. Tony sees it differently.
“You can look at it as pressure, but I see it as pride. You have to understand who you are and the history of what he’s built. My father grew up on a dirt road in Uruguay and he’s gone through things I have never had to. I’m sure there were days when he was hungry, and I’ve never been hungry, so you I have to be aware of that. I’m in a very fortunate position.” “But it’s not like you’re being handed something,” Litto says. “It’s not easy to come into a family business that works. Not only do you have to keep it that way, you have to continue building on it.”
“I’m not afraid of the future at all,” Tony continues. “I’m fortunate that my dad always listens to my opinion and ideas. It’s what I respect him the most for. He’s Litto Gomez, a legend, a hall of famer who’s accomplished things that people could never dream of in this industry; he doesn’t have to listen to my ideas, but he does. Some of them are good, some of them bad.”
“The more ideas he has, the easier it becomes for me,” Litto says. Even though they don’t always agree.
“I was watching him working for a month on labels, cigar bands and everything for La Nox,” Litto continues. “When he was done he asked me what I thought, and I hate blue in cigars. So I told him, and I saw in his face that he was disappointed, but I told him not to change it. There are many people who like it. There’s no right or wrong. It’s about preference and I don’t want to kill anybody’s creativity. That’s how he grows.”
“Luckily it did go well,” Tony says, again with a smile. “Otherwise I might have been less into creativity.”In the end, they seem to be nothing but happy to work together.
“He may be my father, but, to me, he’s my best friend, and I think we make a good team. We’re alike in many ways, and I wholeheartedly agree with his philosophy on what we do, so we mostly agree on things. There are few experiences in life more rewarding than this.”