Frank Llaneza (1920-2010) was a
Frank Llaneza was born on March 9, 1920 in
During his time as a manager at Schwab-Davis, Frank's father launched another company with his three former business partners called José Arango. When Schwab-Davis was later sold to a company called Gradiaz-Annis, a forerunner of
During his school years, Frank worked part time in his father's factory, beginning work at age 15. Frank attended and graduated
Following graduation from high school, Frank Llaneza went to work in the cigar industry full-time beginning at his father's factory as an apprentice selector of
Following conclusion of the war, Llaneza returned to work in his father's factory as a tobacco selector before moving to become a
In 1947, Llaneza went to
Despite the fact that the American economy underwent a boom in the post-war years, as consumers were suddenly able to buy unlimited quantities of products formerly subjected to wartime
Establishment of Villazon & Co.
The José Arango company was reorganized under bankruptcy under a new name, Villazon and Company. Together Frank and his older brother, Joe, began making inexpensive machine-made cigars, carving out a market niche in which they were able to compete with larger firms. Villazon soon acquired a set of
Villazon specialized for a time in the manufacture of inexpensive
Together with Angel Oliva, Sr., Frank Llaneza was one of the pioneers in the farming of cigar tobacco in
In 1955, Joe Cullman III, a vice president of tobacco giant Philip Morris, approached the Llaneza brothers and asked them to manufacture
Villazon also introduced its own self-named brand in this period. Villazon's production of cigars slowly grew throughout the 1950s, rising from 10,000 or 15,000 cigars a day to about 25,000 a day when the decade drew to a close.
The business shifted somewhat late in the 1950s when Philip Morris decided to exit the cigar business. Excess capacity at Villazon was dedicated to the expansion of the Bances brand, the company's biggest seller.
Villazon continued to purchase Cuban tobacco after the
The embargo years
An embargo on Cuban products had been correctly anticipated by Angel Oliva, with whom Frank Llaneza worked closely, who managed to export over 2 million pounds of tobacco in the last legal shipment from the island. The private owners of the brand names of the nationalized Cuban cigar industry initially believed that the situation was temporary.
In 1964, with the government of
Due to lower labor costs, difficulty in finding American rollers, and proximity to the raw materials, during the decade of the 1960s Villazon shifted its hand rolled cigar production to Honduras, retaining only a skeleton production facility in Tampa to make special sizes for an elite clientele, such as
With the cigar business in a steady state of decline in the 1970s and 1980s, Villazon purchased facilities which its competitors were abandoning, such as a larger factory space in Tampa, as well as equipment from manufacturers leaving the industry. The company's American operation was thereby expanded, dedicated to making short filler cigars by machine.
Villazon's Honduran handmade cigars were differentiated from the industry, however, as Frank Llaneza recalled in a 1999 interview:
Sale of Villazon to General Cigar
Llaneza sold Villazon in 1996, during the height of the
By the end of the 1990s, the Villazon division of General Cigar was making upwards of 125,000 cigars a day, some 32 to 33 million a year, in its manufacturing facilities in
Work with Altadis
Late in his life, Llaneza returned from semi-retirement to the cigar business, creating new brands and helping to supervise Nicaraguan operations for the cigar making giant Altadis. Among those brands created in this last stage of his career included
Death and legacy
Frank Llaneza died March 18, 2010, of heart failure, just two weeks after having celebrated his 90th birthday. Llaneza was survived by his wife, Diane, and four daughters. One of these women, Ruth Hudson, followed in the footsteps of her father and grandfather into the cigar business.
Llaneza was remembered by his peers as one of the supreme figures of the cigar industry. ""He was one of the
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