Jose Luis Plasencia’s career in the tobacco industry officially began in 2015. He recalls graduating on a Saturday and by that next Monday he was working in a tobacco field alongside his father, Nestor Plasencia Sr. Although he majored in business administration and earned minors in both finance and international business, his father offered him the following advice: “For you to understand the numbers, you first need to understand the practice.” For Jose, the best way for him to truly break into the tobacco industry was to work in the tobacco fields where the process begins.
As time went on, Jose’s place within Plasencia 1865 evolved. Because the company is vertically integrated, Jose was able to work in the company’s finance departments, pre-industry facilities and its cigar production factories, all while continuing his work and lessons in the tobacco fields. In the fields, Jose learned what wide-ranging results tobacco could produce by taking an outside-of-the-box approach to growing it. He also learned how to measure and compare the yield of production from the family’s different tobacco fields. He was amazed by the way the company’s tobacco production would grow when those responsible for growing the plants were more aware of the small details that allowed for greater results.
“From pre-industry and cigar production, I learned about the importance of having strict control over the tobacco and cigar inventory, which results in generating higher production yields,” Jose explains. “It also allows the tobacco the time it needs before making a cigar. The secret of every great cigar is the tobacco behind it.”
In October 2018, Jose was promoted to vice president of Plasencia 1865. He recalls the moment he found out about his promotion and the realization that all of his work up to that point had served a purpose—and that he’d been doing things the right way. The promotion motivated him to continue to evolve in every aspect of his life, and it also put him in a position to serve his family and oversee their continued success in the tobacco industry.
Working Around Family
The Plasencias are a well-known family within the cigar industry, recognized for their high-quality tobacco and superior cigar-making abilities. Working with family can be a challenge for many, and it’s one of the areas of business that Jose has had to learn how to navigate. He admits that there have been disagreements between various family members when there’s a business decision to be made. These tense moments pass, however, as the strong familial bond between them comes through and each person’s opinion is voiced and taken into consideration before everyone agrees on a final decision.
Each family member has a different role within the company. Jose’s father is in charge of the company’s tobacco production while his brother, Nestor Plasencia Jr., oversees all of the factories in which the company makes its cigars. Jose manages the family’s distribution company. They also have a team that supports them in the company’s fields, factories and distribution centers. While each has his own responsibilities, they are brought together by their shared passion for the family’s brand and the tobacco industry in general.
While working with family can be challenging, there are times when it has given the Plasencias a certain advantage over other companies. Since the company started in 1865, the Plasencias have lost everything twice—first in the Cuban revolution and later during the Sandinista revolution that took place in Nicaragua in the 1980s. The 1980s proved to be a challenge for the company as its tobacco production took a hit because of blue mold, a disease that destroyed nearly 90 percent of the family’s tobacco crop that decade. These events taught the family how to deal with failure within their business as well as the good that came from perseverance.
“The best way to prepare for things going wrong in this business is to have control over the tobacco inventory—and most importantly anticipate that something wrong may happen,” explains Jose.
Learning from the Ground Up
Jose considers himself to be a good listener and a team player, two qualities that he has relied on during his transition to the position of vice president at Plasencia 1865. He believes the company’s most valuable resource is its employees. Being a part of the Plasencia family as well as an executive within the company, Jose takes responsibility for seeing to the needs of the company’s many employees. He strives to be a leader, not a boss. While he works to earn the respect of his employees, he also wants each of them to feel like he is their friend. In this approach, he hopes to make them feel comfortable enough to come to him when there’s an issue or problem that needs to be dealt with.
Jose never lets his position hinder his goals of continuing to learn and improve on both a personal and professional level. He believes the only way one can lead a tobacco business is if he or she learns all the different processes that it involves.
“I strongly believe that to be successful in a leadership position you need to start from the bottom and learn the ins and outs of your business,” says Jose. “This helps you to always remember where you began and how far you have made it. For me, this experience has allowed me to strengthen my leadership skills.”
Jose calls on his team’s recommendations and thoughts on the company’s various projects. As a leader in the company, he likes the team to know how their contributions and opinions on all of the goings-on within the company are not only needed but valued. When it comes to making the final decisions, Jose reveals that he settles on the ones that are deemed the most reasonable for the company’s vendors, customers, employees and the company as a whole.
Jose and his brother, Nestor Plasencia Jr., work every day to carry on their family’s traditions through their passion and hard work. They also acknowledge that the world is changing and that the company must adapt to the new market trends in order to successfully continue in the tobacco industry. One way the company is ensuring its successful future is by turning its attention to sustainability. Through the years, the Plasencias have learned that by protecting the soil its tobacco is grown in as well as the company’s water resources, it is able to improve the quality of tobacco that it plants and, consequently, the quality of its cigars.
“We want to ensure that the future Plasencia generations have rich soils that will enable them to continue working in this beautiful industry and have the ability to continue producing high-quality cigars,” Jose explains.
One of the company’s cigars, the Reserva Original, is marketed as the world’s only handmade organic cigar. Jose believes that cigar consumers are drawn to organic products and acknowledges that this is one of the changes the company is noticing in the industry and among its customers. With people becoming more environmentally conscious, there’s a growing demand for companies to become more sustainable and to offer products that are organic. Plasencia has made several investments to achieve sustainability. One of those has been to increase the production of vermicompost, a resource that is used as an organic fertilizer and in turn improves the organic materials in soil. This allows the soil to become richer in nutrients, which will yield more tobacco for years to come.
The company has also invested in fertigation systems. These allow for fertilization and irrigation to take place at the same time. This system cuts the amount of water usage in half and increases the yield of production by 25 percent.
“Our employees are very grateful that we are incorporating these new efforts. When we take good care of our environment, we also take good care of them, something that has and always will be a top priority,” says Jose.
Plasencia’s sustainability efforts have allowed for richer soils as well as richer tobacco crops. By incorporating these different conservation techniques, the Plasencias have seen their natural resources improve and the quality of the company’s tobaccos enhanced. All of these efforts lead to the ultimate payoff for retailers and consumers—high-quality cigars that will not only delight cigar aficionados but also a new generation of smokers. Jose has one final insight that other tobacco businesses can benefit from: It is amazing what the earth can give when you take good care of it.
This story first appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.
– Story by Antoine Reid, an editor and digital content director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.