Ashes-to-Ashes | An Interview with Jon Huber of CAO Cigars

What’s first premium cigar you ever smoked, and how was it?
J.H.: Wow, that’s going back a way. I believe it was either a Macanudo Hyde Park or an Ashton Classic. The experience and the ritualistic aspect of cutting/lighting/smoking were more memorable than the cigar, actually. I just remember having read-up on Cigar Aficionado magazine and then smoking and desperately seeking those “hints of leather, cedar and sweet spice notes.”  I think the funniest taste description I’ve read in that magazine over the years has been “gun metal.”  I mean, really, who was the editor that wrote that, and just HOW bad were things that at one point he put a gun in his mouth to even know what the hell “gun metal” even tasted like?!

How did you end up landing such a cool job with CAO?
J.H.: Well, the truth is that the “cool job” didn’t exist at CAO when I started in 1996. At that time, I accepted an entry-level position as the shipping manager. But within 5 months, I parlayed that gig into the Director of Promotions & Public Relations position by landing a weekly spot on a local rock format radio station as the “cigar expert.”  I did 5 shows, came in and played the tapes for Cano (Ozgener) – and voila! – I was promoted.  To this day, Cano says I was “the worst shipping manager ever!”  And in retrospect, I have to admit that it’s kind of crazy that I was able to con that radio station into thinking I was some kind of “cigar authority” after having smoked cigars for less than a year!

I read that you’re actively involved in the production of CAO’s promotional videos, and worked on some designs for CAO apparel. Can you give us a little insight to to your creative background?
J.H.: Actually, video is a fairly new media format that I’ve been working on closely with Michael Trebing (CAO Creative Media Manager), and we’ve been having a blast with it.  It’s amazing how ‘creative’ things can become over a few after-work cocktails; co-producer credits go out to Mr. J. Daniels and Mr. J. Beam!

I’ve always been ‘creative’ as opposed to ‘analytical/logical.’  I got involved with video production my junior year in high school and was independently producing music videos and working production at my high school’s TV station.

As far as apparel design is concerned, I’ve sketched t-shirt and cap designs since as far back as I can remember.  In college, I would be approached by friends to design a small run of t-shirts for parties and whatever – now I get to do the same thing for CAO and produce tens of thousands.  It’s always cool to be out somewhere and see someone wearing a CAO cap or t-shirt.

What’s the key ingredient that differentiates CAO cigars from the other major leaguers in the industry?
J.H.: If you’re referring to the cigar as opposed to the brand, I would point to the creativity and innovation of our blends. Tim (Ozgener) has always been ahead of the curve in terms of incorporating tobaccos from countries that would not normally be considered for premium blends, i.e., Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Italy, etc. If you’re referring to the brand, I believe that CAO has a very unique personality that incorporates elements of tradition, fashion, technology, entertainment, and even a little rock ‘n roll.  That unique mix is a direct result of the personalities of the people that comprise CAO.

Tell us how you set-up the CAO celebrity & sports events. Do you also get to attend them?
J.H.: At this stage of the game, we typically don’t have to go out and secure involvement with these high-profile events.  More often than not, we’re approached by representatives from these events and the real ‘work’ comes down to screening the proposals, managing the financial risk, and making certain our brand is properly represented.

I’ve attended these events in the past; however, I honestly prefer attending cigar industry events and getting the opportunity to meet the people that are supporting our brand face to face.

Has any no-smoking legislation hampered your ability to do certain events?
J.H.: The celebrity/luxury lounge style events (Grammys, Emmys, Academy Awards, etc.) haven’t been impacted because there’s never really been a designated ‘smoking section’ at those functions to begin with. Other shows, however, have felt the effect of the no-smoking legislation.  For example, this year’s “Big Smoke Chicago” was cancelled as a direct result of a no-smoking ordinance.

Does CAO ‘give back to the community’ by doing any charitable work here in the U.S. or in Central America?
J.H.: CAO is very active with numerous local and national charities; however, we make it a practice not to publicize our charitable involvement because we don’t give back to get attention or publicity. We also support our troops overseas by constantly sending product donations on a near-weekly basis.

What are your three top criteria for ensuring the annual IPCPR show is a success?
J.H.: There are so many variables that go into that show each year. Those 3½ days really define your entire year in terms of new product launches, sales, branding, new displays, event scheduling, etc.  On top of all that, we produce an annual event/party for the convention that seems to have grown bigger and bigger every year.  We’ve gone from ice sculptures and 400 people in 1998 to chartering a fleet of buses, renting out the Hard Rock Vegas pool for 3,000 people, and having Tommy Lee deejay our party!  And this year’s event will be bigger and better than any year before.  So yes, the artist formerly known as RTDA – now IPCPR – represents a great deal of time and effort on our behalf.

How do you balance your hectic work schedule with making time for your family?
J.H.: Since I’m divorced, on the one hand it complicates your life, but on the other it simplifies matters. Going through the divorce process was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to endure in my life, but in my case it made it easier to juggle work and home. I’m a big believer that God has a plan for everyone’s life and where you are today is where you’re supposed to be; so that’s how I was able to make peace with the ordeal.

The ‘good news’ is that I am still very active in my son’s life. He’s my best friend and we’re closer than ever.  I’m also blessed in that while work consumes so much of my time, I also get to work alongside people who are not only talented, but who I look upon as an extended ‘family.’ I get paid to do what I love for a living, and I get to do it everyday with people that I truly care about outside of the office.

What’s been the wildest experience you’ve had so far as Director of Lifestyle Marketing?
J.H.: Honestly, I could probably write a book about the things I’ve seen and done, the places I’ve been able to visit, and the people I’ve been able to meet—and I don’t mean that from any other perspective except that I’ve been very fortunate to have had life ‘experiences’ that I know I never would’ve experienced had it not been for CAO or this business.  That said, I’d say that two of the more memorable chapters have been smoking cigars and having drinks (many) with Hank Williams, Jr., and partying with Tommy Lee in his suite in Vegas until 5:30 the following morning.

Final question: What are the home phone numbers for the CAO Flavourettes?
J.H.: I can neither confirm nor deny that I’ve ever been in possession of any such information. ;^). £

Gary Korb

Gary Korb

Executive Editor at cigaradvisor.com

Gary Korb has been writing and editing content for CigarAdvisor.com since its debut in 2008. An avid cigar smoker for over 30 years, during the past 12 years he has worked on the marketing side of the premium cigar business as a Sr. Copywriter, blogger, and cigar reviewer. A graduate of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, prior to his career in the cigar business, Gary worked in the music and video industry as a marketer and a publicist.

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