Behind the Leaf: Michael Giannini of The Ventura Cigar Company

By Joe Bosso

Michael Giannini wasn’t looking to get back into the cigar business when he joined the Ventura Cigar Company in 2017. The longtime East Coaster had just left the General Cigar Company after a 16-year run, moved out to California, and was looking forward to segueing into a career in the fashion and jewelry industry.

Realizing that trends in the cigar business—like most industries—can fluctuate year to year, what’s your long-term vision for the company?

Long-term, it’s to grow the division. After I came in as a personality and creative director, I was actually made the GM of the whole organization, so I get to run the business, which is kind of cool. I get to go to the factories. I get to create the packaging with my team, and then I gear up my sales people to go out there and sell the product. So I’ve got complete control from creative to execution in the field.

My vision is to grow the company, but it’s something more than that: I get to be a disrupter. But I can only do that because we’re not in a box. There’s some great heritage brands out there that have a personality, but that’s not us. We don’t own any heritage brands, and none of us are Cuban; none of us have factories, so we don’t hang our hat on that. We kind of see ourselves in-between a boutique and a larger organization, and that allows us to just kind of do awesome things. We partner up with really cool companies in the different Caribbean basin. We create visions to tell stories of how we want to go to market based off what are our interests are.

What are the biggest obstacles you face—both for Ventura and the industry in general?

I think everybody in the industry is facing the uncertainty of what’s going on with the regulations out there. Also, flavor bans. Any type of regulation inhibits innovation in any business. You’re somewhat tenuous in how you create products because you’re trying to work within various restrictions. That’s the most challenging thing, and it’s something I try to push back on.

And that affects so many people. I just came from Nicaragua, and I walked through the factories and saw these people who are so happy to have a job. You look at them and think, “If we don’t do our job, these people don’t have a job.” That’s something we take very seriously. One of the things that the Ventura Cigar Company has done with the Plasencia family is a project that created a school to actually help educate the young kids of the families that work in the factories; not create the next generation of cigar makers, but really to create the next educated group of young people that are going to become lawyers, accountants, doctors and professionals. Education is key to breaking out of menial jobs. So that’s something that my team is committed to, and we need to be able to do this work the best we can.

Moving forward, how does someone like you go about attracting new enthusiasts to your brand or converting longtime smokers to Ventura?

That’s a really great question. I take it back to music. If you’re playing cover tunes, or if you’re in a tribute band, let’s say, you’re only going to attract those people who like those songs. You’re already putting yourself in a box. Talented as you may be, you’re going to stay in one place. But if you create something very unique and you put that music out there, you’re going to attract a whole new set of people. Again, it’s Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” Now, nothing’s a guarantee. Some people just aren’t going to like what you’re doing, period. You might think that you made the greatest album in history, but some folks will say, “I just don’t hear it.” You can’t worry about it. Just go make more music. Make more art. That’s what we do with our cigars. We do what we like, and we’re true to ourselves. Authenticity always wins out in the end.

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