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Interview with Jon Huber CAO

Interview with Jon Huber
CAO Cigars Director of Lifestyle Marketing

Jon Huber is the “Director of Lifestyle Marketing” at CAO International. We have known Jon for some time, and

have always found is infectious personality a blast to be around. With the changes happening at CAO, both

with Jon’s job, and ownership of the company, we thought it a good time to catch up. Following are some

questions and conversation with the true guru of the cigar lifestyle, Jon Huber of CAO.

- Paul Shoberg, Top25Cigar

T25C - Tell us about your new position?

What is a Director of Lifestyle Marketing?

Jon Huber - If I could create any ‘position’

and custom tailor it to best suit my

personality, talents and interests, it would

be my current position as CAO Director of

Lifestyle Marketing. I got into the premium

cigar business because I fell in love with

cigars—and I was relentless in attaining my

goal of working in this industry. But I’ve really

been fortunate to work for such an amazing

company as CAO and for them to allow me

to really grow and create this role within our


We’ve always seen CAO as more than just

a ‘cigar’ or a ‘cigar company.’ Our goals

have always revolved around CAO—the

brand. Through events, marketing, product

placement, advertising, our packaging, and

other creative avenues, we have managed to identify a certain CAO style or ‘lifestyle’ if you will. It’s a bit of

traditional cigar-maker, a little bit of Prada, a little Apple, a dash of Hollywood, and a pinch of rock ‘n roll. My

job from a marketing perspective is to see to it that all our pistons are going towards reinforcing and growing

that brand identity and recognition.

T25C - When we think of companies promoting a Lifestyle, we think of Drew Estates. Is this the direction CAO is


Jon - I have a great deal of respect for Drew Estates and what they’ve accomplished; however, to say we’re

going in a “Drew Estates direction” is entirely inaccurate. You’re talking about apples and oranges insofar as

brand identities are concerned. I believe that one of the key elements to our success over the last decade

can be attributed to the fact that we never ‘follow’ or try to emulate any other cigar brand. We often times

find our inspiration outside of the premium cigar industry, but for us to aspire to just ‘knocking off’ another cigar

brand would mean that we would just be following the leader as opposed to establishing the lead. There’s a

good saying to the effect of, “Unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes.” We always strive to create

and innovate—not follow and emulate.

T25C - Are you targeting a demographic with this new position?

Jon - Actually, we have

done a good deal of

demographic research

to learn more about

our customer base.

What we found is that

our demo is a lot wider

than we’d anticipated.

We’re reaching

everyone from 21 to 55+.

What’s appealing about

the CAO brand is that

there’s something here

for everyone—whether

you’re a 20-something

‘hipster’ or you’re a

30-something Wall

Street exec, or you’re a

50-something blue collar

worker. Regardless who

you are, you’re probably

going to find something

in our portfolio and

brand imaging that will

speak to you.

T25C - What can we expect in 2008 from CAO Cigars?

Jon - I can tell you—but then I’d have to kill you. Honestly, this year marks our 40th Anniversary and we have

some major concepts in the planning and development stages right now. We begin every year here at

CAO with the goal in mind to improve upon the previous year in all aspects of our business. With the possible

exception of 1997, I can honestly say that I believe we’ve achieved that goal every year since I began with

CAO in April of 1996.

T25C - Other than a world of competition, what do you classify as the toughest aspect of the cigar world?

Jon - I wouldn’t say anything is “tough” about what we do. You want tough?—try being a policeman or a fire

fighter. We have a blast doing what we do, hopefully we bring an element of enjoyment to people’s lives, and

we get paid to do it. We are blessed to be able to do what we do for a living. But if you want to ask what the

most “challenging” aspect of this business is, that would be obtaining a steady and consistent product supply.

So much effort goes into creating a cigar brand—from the concept to the blend to the packaging design

to the marketing to the sales—but it’s all for not if you can’t deliver the actual product to the retail shelf on a

consistent basis.

T25C - How many alterations are made on a cigar when it makes its first step from thought to reality, and how

many tasters are involved in the process?

Jon - That’s an excellent question and one that I’m sure Tim (Ozgener) could shed more light upon. It all really

depends upon the brand and the corresponding blend. We’ve had some cigars that we knew were very close

to being a home run from the first sample we smoked. Others have taken numerous tweaks and adjustments

to the blend to get it just right. Then, you get into the packaging design—the band, the box, the entire

presentation. That aspect can become quite tedious when the subtle changes appear incredibly minimal and

almost nonexistent to the ‘naked eye’—but after you’ve looked at the artwork a thousand-and-one times, you

pick up on the slight changes and nuances. I give Tim and Michael Trebing (Creative Media Manager) a ton of

credit for coming out with amazing packaging and band designs year in and year out.

As far as how many tasters are involved, our primary taster and evaluator of blends is obviously Tim. He’ll go

and work down at the factory with the Sr. Fidel Olivas (Factory Supervisor CAO Fabrica de Tabacos) for weeks

at a time to work out the preliminary blend samples. Then, he’ll bring them home for a handful of us here to

smoke and evaluate. We also have a short list of people outside of CAO to whom we reach out to for their

evaluation, as well—people whom we know have great palates.

T25C - What’s the story with you and tattoos?

Jon - I got my first tattoo when I was

probably 22 or 23. It was something

I’d always wanted to do and my

philosophy is that life is short and only

today is guaranteed—that’s why they

call it the “present.” So, I live my life

with no regrets and I live for today—I

go after everything today, not waiting

for tomorrow to happen. Well, 20 years

later I now have my entire right arm

done, half of my left arm, and my right

chest and stomach. I guess you can

say I have an ‘obsessive personality’—

which is why I never got into drugs! I

have a tattoo of a CAO Cigar on the

back of my right arm but my favorite

tattoo is my son’s (Liam Vaughn Huber)

initials on the inside of my right arm. I

will say that I have never regretted

any of my tattoos—each one tells a

chapter in my life and my skin is like a

journal of my life. Twelve years ago

when I got engaged, I had “Nancy

Forever” tattooed over a flaming heart

on my right arm. Last year, Nancy and

I got divorced so I changed it to “Nasty

Forever.” I guess I lucked out with that one—I could’ve married a girl named ‘Patricia’ or something!

Jon - My “everyday” resolution is to be a better man and the best father I can be—but my New Year’s

resolution was to learn how to play the drums. That’s been something I’ve wanted to do since I was five yearsold.

I used to play on pots and pans and empty oatmeal boxes with wooden spoons and then I remember

asking Santa for a drum kit when I was five. Well, Santa brought me that drum kit and I played it day and

night—to the point where one day I woke up and it was gone. My parents had ‘trashed’ my drum kit because

I was making entirely too much noise. I laugh about it now, but I’ve always had that desire in the back of my

mind. Funny enough, my 7-year-old son Liam asked for an electric guitar and an amp this year for Christmas

and Santa delivered. Hopefully, he’ll pursue his desire of music.

T25C - How many cigars do you smoke in a typical week?

Jon - 3. On average, I’ll smoke 8-10 cigars per week. That number goes up if we’re in the middle of blend

evaluations; however, unlike most of the people who’ll read this, I smoke only at the office and never at home. I

started the ‘no smoking’ policy at home when my son was young, but the reality these days is that it just seems

that I’m never at home or in one spot long enough to actually take an hour to sit back, relax and enjoy a cigar.

Fortunately, cigar smoking is highly ‘encouraged’ in my work place…call it one of the many ‘perks’ of working

at CAO!

T25C - Describe your typical day at CAO.

Jon - I wake up at around 5:00am (after about 5-6 hours of sleep), have a cup of coffee, return overnight

emails on my blackberry, and then grab a workout or a 4-5 mile run. I get ready for work and am in the office

at 9:00. I get into the office—have more coffee—check about a half-dozen online forums for any CAO-related

activity, then I prep for our daily 10:08 executive meeting. After that, everyday is completely different. I may

be gearing up to shoot a CAO video, coordinating sales and marketing strategies, working on in-store events,

point-of-sales materials, designing new CAO apparel, finalizing a product placement deal, responding to a interview…it’s always changing, it’s always different, and that’s one of the things I love about

my gig! I typically wrap things up between 6:00 and 8:00pm and head home…..or out.

T25C - Why 10:08?

Jon - 1. Our “10:08” is something that is done each and every day. Tim gathers the heads from sales, marketing,

customer relations, logistics, and finance for a 10-15 minute pow-wow so that we maintain a constant and

open line of communications with everyone on the same page. If someone is on the road, we’re expected to

call and we’re conferenced-in via phone. The only ‘excuse’ is being on a plane. The time was something that

Tim initiated. He felt that if the meeting time was at an unusual time (such as “10:08”) people would be more

apt to remember it and never miss it. Well, it has worked!

T25C - Where do you see yourself in 10


Jon - If I’m not living on a beach

somewhere, spending my time

learning music, painting, and taking

long walks by the water with my

loved ones, I will be right here at CAO

creating a bigger, badder, and better

CAO brand!

T25C - Lastly, and most importantly,

when are we going to be able to grab

a beer, share a cigar, and tell stories

about our kids?

Jon - You name it, bro! If we don’t

cross paths before July, there’s always

the IPCPR show in Vegas….and you

will NOT want to miss this year’s CAO
Vegas Bash—it will be EPIC.

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