Lissette Perez-Carrillo of EPC Cigars: an Interview
Having interviewed numerous cigar makers over the years, all of them men – Cigar Advisor wanted to know what it’s like for woman growing-up in a cigar business family. Since most tobacco growing and cigar making companies are handed down from father-to-son, we were especially pleased to learn that when Ernesto Perez-Carrillo founded EPC Cigars in 2009, his daughter Lissette would play an important role in the company along with her brother Ernesto (“Ernie”) Perez-Carrillo III. As a child, Lissette spent many a day at her father’s El Credito Factory in Miami where she would watch him intently as he “worked his magic.” Years later, after completing college, Lissette earned a law degree, and after working as an associate for a sizeable law firm in New York City, she went on to work for The Legal Aid Society of New York. After moving back to Miami, Lissette set-up a private practice while working for a real estate firm – all that, and with a couple of children to raise, too! Now working at EPC, Lissette is in charge of managing the company’s finances, cigar distribution, and of course, any legal issues that arise. In October of 2010, shortly after Lissette began working at EPC Cigars, CigarAdvisor.com Executive Editor, Gary Korb had the chance to speak with her about helping run the family business.
Give us a little background on yourself and what was it like growing up in a successful cigar business family?
Lissette Perez-Carrillo: I grew up in Miami and spent a lot of time at our family cigar factory. I would do everything from just hanging out with my dad and watching him work his magic on the blends to putting labels and cellophane on the cigars. When I was around ten I spent more time doing office work and from then on my responsibilities increased. After college, I left to New York to attend law school, spent some years there working at a big law firm, and then made my way back to Miami. Because we sold our first company to Swedish Match I feared our family was not going to have the opportunity to continue in the cigar business. Fortunately, my dad, brother and I have started EPC Cigar Co. and our new blends for the E.P. Carrillo label have allowed us to create something very special.
What were you doing, if anything, before you went to work for your father, and what made you decide to go into the business?
LP-C: Before moving back to Miami I was working at The Legal Aid Society in New York City. I had my son, and then three years later, my daughter. I worked on my own as an attorney and also ran a real estate investment company. I decided to go back into the business because I have always been an entrepreneur at heart. It was also a great opportunity to work with my Dad and brother Ernesto. But mostly, because I love everything about cigars, from how they taste to how they bring people together.
What are your main responsibilities at your father’s company?
LP-C: I see our venture as a truly united project. We share our ideas on everything from sales, marketing, blending, finances, etc. My main responsibilities include managing our finances, distribution of the cigars, legal matters and generally running the operations.
What is the most stressful thing, and the best thing about working with your father?
LP-C: The most stressful thing about working with my father is the high expectations he has. This is also the best thing about working with him. He teaches us to ask the most from ourselves, to push our own limits, and to stand our ground at those moments when Dad needs to step back a bit.
What do you think EPC Cigars does better than its competitors?
LP-C: Our industry is one of great camaraderie. In this spirit, I like to focus more on how we can learn from our competitors and not as much on what we do better than them. There are many great cigars out there, so I would only hope that our cigars are among the top ones in the market.
Do you have a particular favorite among the cigars you make?
LP-C: I enjoy our core line Golosos the most. This is a 60 ring gauge cigar and boy does it have flavor. It starts great and ends even better. It’s a true experience throughout. It’s a big cigar but it is smooth, flavorful and doesn’t stay with you hours later.
What has surprised you most about working in the cigar business?
LP-C: As a child, I didn’t realize that cigars are more than just a flavor. What has surprised me most as the years have gone by is how cigars influence social dynamics. There is great feeling not only when smoking cigars and talking about them, but also when a group of people who would not otherwise have met or socialized find a common interest in cigars. I see friendships started from this common interest that are strong and lengthy.
What do you think the future holds for the cigar industry?
LP-C: I think that there are several obstacles facing us. Taxes, economic cycles, and legislative restrictions are a few. I think our industry is one based on tradition and a true appreciation for the art of blending a product that pleases and unites. I have no doubt that while growth is impacted by the obstacles, that strength will continue in the industry’s future.
What do you like to do most for fun on your off-time?
LP-C: I love to spend time with my family and friends. We socialize a lot and cigars are usually a part of it. I enjoy reading and traveling. Off-time is limited, so it’s important to me to spend it with those I love.