Cigar Interview: Jon Huber – Part One
We are very excited to have an in-depth interview with Jon Huber. Jon formerly served as Director of Lifestyle Marketing and left a few months ago when CAO was merged into General Cigars. Over the next three days, Jon will talk about his early days at CAO, life in the office during the merger, his departure, and his new cigar venture. We hope you enjoy!
Part One: Getting to Know Jon Huber
Take us back Jon, to before you began working with CAO and first entered the cigar industry. Where did you grow up, what were your hobbies, what was your favorite subject in school?
I grew up in San Francisco (CA) and lived there in the city until I was 17, at which time I moved to Los Angeles to attend college. I was really a loner in high school and when I wasn’t studying, I was working out or shooting music videos. My favorite subjects were English/Literature and TV Production.
What are some of your previous employment experiences? Surely they weren’t all as good as CAO.
I think that in order to appreciate what you have today, you have to have had some past life experiences that were less than ideal. My first job out of college was as a Private Trainer for the Sports Club L/A. I was really getting paid to workout and ‘babysit’ people who wanted a trainer. But there was a lot of downhill after that. I’ve done everything from commercial real estate sales to telemarketing sales, where I sold dog shampoo and indoor tanning products. That was pretty much a low point, to be honest. Let’s say I’ve been through some “things;” but I believe that all those experiences brought me to where I am today and I really love where my life is now. So I don’t regret anything.
Do you remember the first cigar you ever had?
Of course. It was a Macanudo Hyde Park (cue the sound of irony).
How about your first tattoo?
I was 23 years old and I’m embarrassed to say that it was of a Superman emblem. It was done at Sunset Tattoo on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. I later added on to it and turned it in to a tribute piece for my Grandfather.
Reflecting on Your Time at CAO
I’ve read that you were so eager to break into the cigar industry, that you went through every ad in Cigar Aficionado and contacted the companies to inquire about work. Is this true?
All true. I think it was around 1993 and I had purchased the ‘George Burns’ issue of Cigar Aficionado at a wine store. I literally combed the issue from front to back, getting contact information and calling and writing to nearly every cigar company in that issue. I got turned down by everyone who bothered to actually reply; CAO was the last ad in that issue, and my last attempt as well.
So CAO responded to your letter?
Not immediately. In fact, it was roughly four months from when I sent the letter that I received a voice mail from Cano (Ozgener). The back-story is that Tim was visiting Nashville (he lived in Los Angeles at the time) and spotted the letter sitting on his Dad’s desk. It was Tim that read the letter and urged his father to call me. I owe the Ozgener family a lot.
What was the available position at CAO?
It was Manager of Shipping. I knew nothing about shipping but I knew it was my chance to get my foot in the door so I dove in head first.
How did you progress from that position to the Marketing department, and to eventually manager of it?
Five months into my career at CAO, I was working out in the early morning and heard a radio promo on WKDF (a popular rock format radio station in Nashville at the time) that involved cigars. I immediately stopped my workout and called the station to inquire where they were getting the cigars from. As it turned out, they didn’t actually have any cigars secured for the promo.
Long story short, I traded out CAO product for some radio spots, and from that point I parlayed that experience into a weekly stint on the morning drive-time show as “the cigar expert” where people would call in and I would answer their cigar questions. After doing this for about 4-5 weeks, I collected the cassette (yes, I said ‘cassette’) tapes of my spots and brought them in to play for Cano. He asked, “Who is this?” I said, “me.” He said, “this is fantastic…you are now the Director of Promotions & Public Relations.” That was the end of my 5 month shipping career and the start of my marketing career at CAO. To this day, Cano tells the story of how I was the “worst shipping manager ever.”
So where did this desire to be involved in the cigar industry originate from?
I was at a point in my life where I was miserable with what I was doing for a living and felt that I no longer wanted a ‘job.’ I wanted to wake up each morning and do what I was passionate about and make it my livelihood. I did some soul-searching and realized I wanted to be involved in an industry that had romance, and tradition; where something was still made by the human hand. I didn’t want to be involved with the sale or fabrication of something that was inanimate and soulless. I narrowed the choices down to either wine or cigars. It really was more out of desperation than desire. I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting another day of my life doing something I wasn’t passionate about.
When you arrived at CAO in April of 1996, what was the climate like?
CAO had just moved out of Cano’s basement into a 2000 square foot ‘shanty’ of an office. There were approximately 4 employees (including Cano). Tim was working for the company part-time on the West coast. Really, in retrospect you would say that the odds were enormously stacked against us surviving, let alone actually succeeding.
Click here to read Part 2