Ashes-to-Ashes | An Interview with Jon Huber of CAO Cigars
Ashes-to-Ashes | An Interview with Jon Huber of CAO Cigars
This month, I'm happy to introduce a new Cigar Advisor feature. "Ashes-to-Ashes" is where we get to ask a prominent cigar industry personality a few questions about their job. We kick-off our debut interview with Jon Huber, "Director of Lifestyle Marketing" for CAO International Cigars. I've gotten to know Jon well over the last few years. He's the person who sends me news about new CAO cigars, or about a high-profile promotional event with The Oscars®, Emmys®, or Grammy® Awards, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Jon's really got a dream job; perhaps one of the best jobs next to "rock star."
And with his slim build, long hair, tattoos, and demanding travel schedule, you might just istake him for one. So let's find out how he got so
What's first premium cigar you ever smoked, and how was it?
J.H.: Wow, thatʼs 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 Iʼve 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
How did you end up landing such a cool job with CAO?
J.H.: Well, the truth is that the "cool job" didnʼt 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
J.H.: Actually, video is a fairly new media format that Iʼve been working on closely with Michael
Trebing (CAO Creative Media Manager), and weʼve been having a blast with it. Itʼs amazing
how ʻcreativeʼ things can become over a few after-work cocktails; co-producer credits go out to
Mr. J. Daniels and Mr. J. Beam!
Iʼve always been ʻcreativeʼ as opposed to ʻanalytical/logical.ʼ I got involved with video
production my junior year in high school and was independently producing music videos and
working production at my high schoolʼs TV station.
As far as apparel design is concerned, Iʼve 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 tshirts
for parties and whatever - now I get to do the same thing for CAO and produce tens of
thousands. Itʼs always cool to be out somewhere and see someone wearing a CAO cap or tshirt.
What's the key ingredient that differentiates CAO cigars from the other major leaguers in
J.H.: If youʼre 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 youʼre 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
J.H.: At this stage of the game, we typically donʼt have to go out and secure involvement with
these high-profile events. More often than not, weʼre approached by representatives from these
events and the real ʻworkʼ comes down to screening the proposals, managing the financial risk,
and making certain our brand is properly represented.
Iʼve 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.)
havenʼt been impacted because thereʼs never really been a designated ʻsmoking sectionʼ at
those functions to begin with. Other shows, however, have felt the effect of the no-smoking
legislation. For example, this yearʼs "Big Smoke Chicago" was cancelled as a direct result of a
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 donʼt give back to get attention
or publicity. We also support our troops overseas by constantly sending product donations on a
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 3˝ 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. Weʼve 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 yearʼs 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 Iʼve ever had to
endure in my life, but in my case it made it easier to juggle work and home. Iʼm a big believer
that God has a plan for everyoneʼs life and where you are today is where youʼre supposed to be;
so thatʼs how I was able to make peace with the ordeal.
The ʻgood newsʼ is that I am still very active in my sonʼs life. Heʼs my best friend and weʼre
closer than ever. Iʼm 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 ʻfamily.ʼ 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 Iʼve seen and done, the places Iʼve
been able to visit, and the people Iʼve been able to meet—and I donʼt mean that from any other
perspective except that Iʼve been very fortunate to have had life ʻexperiencesʼ that I know I
never wouldʼve experienced had it not been for CAO or this business. That said, Iʼd 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
Final question: What are the home phone numbers for the CAO Flavourettes?
J.H.: I can neither confirm nor deny that Iʼve ever been in possession of any such