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Simon Chase – A Life in Cigars

Simon Chase – A Life in Cigars

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Simon was born in Cambridge in 1944. His father was a serving RAF officer at the time subsequently returning to his peacetime profession as a maths teacher and housemaster at Rugby school where Simon was a pupil between 1958 and 1962. After he left school and following a foray into accountancy, Simon spent 15 years working as an Account Manager in advertising for the well-known agencies Doyle Dane and Bernbach and Foote, Cone & Belding. In 1976 he joined Saatchi & Saatchi, where he was introduced to cigars at the end of long lunches on agency budgets. The following year, Simon was recruited by Nicholas Freeman to establish a Marketing Department at Hunters & Frankau. He was the first person in the UK cigar business to hold such a role.

At that time Cuban cigars were distributed by four different companies in the UK, each with their own brand portfolio. Hunters & Frankau represented Montecristo, H Upmann, Ramon Allones and Davidoff. Simon came from an industry accustomed to substantial marketing budgets and it became apparent very quickly that no such budgets existed for premium cigars. He also realised very quickly that there was little or no information available to the public about the making of handmade cigars and so he set about writing his first book: ‘A Short Appreciation of Havana Cigars’, which was published the same year he joined Hunters.

Following the publication of ‘A Short Appreciation of Havana Cigars’, Simon spent four years as Managing Director of the Anglo Havana Cigar Company which was a fellow member of the Hunters & Frankau Group of companies and the distributor of Davidoff cigars in the UK.  At the time, Davidoff cigars were still being made in Cuba. It was Simon who came up with the concept of Davidoff ‘Depositaires’ and was instrumental in building the success of the brand at that time. He also worked very closely with Edward Sahakian who opened the Davidoff Shop in London in 1980.

Simon went on to write two more books about the processes involved in the making of cigars. The first was ‘Havanas: A Unique Blend of Sun, Soil and Skill’, which was published in 1993 in the UK and then subsequently translated into four languages for use by Habanos S.A in their major markets. In 2003 it was updated and comprehensively expanded by a team based in Cuba with Simon working from London. Titled: ‘The Complete Guide for Habanos’ Enthusiasts’, this seminal book was printed in the UK and ultimately translated into six languages and used across the world by all of Habanos S.A’s distributors. It went into unprecedented detail about the processes involved in the making of cigars in Cuba and it was whilst working on the book that Simon cemented many of his friendships with those in the Cuban cigar industry.

Between 1982 and 2001 Simon wrote and published Cigar World, a magazine which was dedicated to sharing trade news with consumers and those involved in the industry. Cigar World contained a wealth of articles, news pieces, product information and trade as well as product advertisements. It was the only magazine of its kind at the time.

Following his appointment as Marketing Director of Hunters & Frankau Limited in 1984, Simon focused his efforts on developing cigar training and established Cigar School, the first of its kind in the world. Weekly sessions were held in the H&F Boardroom designed to educate those involved in retailing or presenting cigars. Later, Simon worked on the development of H&F’s Higher Certificate Programme as well as setting up and acting as a judge for many years at the World Habanos Sommelier Competition in Cuba. Simon was dedicated to the sharing of his knowledge and believed absolutely that the way to build a market was to educate the trade as well as the consumers. He hosted countless cigar dinners, each one tailored to the specific audience and an ideal opportunity to meet with consumers who were curious about cigars. After the Smoking Ban came into force in 2007, he was instrumental in helping develop H&F’s strategy to encourage the development of COSAs (Comfortable Outdoor Smoking Areas) and the consumer events programme that ensued. This was developed based on a belief that consumers wanted to learn about cigars and that, despite the ban on smoking indoors, the cigar smoking community needed to be bought together more than ever.  Simon loved talking about cigars, their production, their history, the people involved and he gave his time generously. Meticulous preparation went into every dinner, talk or event, from personally selecting the cigars in the warehouse to days and sometimes weeks of research. Sharing his vast wealth of knowledge was a role he relished.

The idea of an identifiable network of Specialist tobacconists originated with Simon as did the categorisation of Specialists based on humidification, presentation, training standards and choice of cigars. This concept has since been adopted across many markets. One of his projects was ‘Aged Habanos’, a concept which was intended to educate a wider audience about the effects of ageing on Habanos cigars. This was launched in 2008 and took the well-established UK practice of ageing cigars and presented it as a product that many enthusiasts could experience and enjoy.

Simon loved Cuba and the friends he made there over the years were a source of great joy to him. He first travelled to Cuba in 1985 and he was last there in February 2018. He had many friends in Cuba and the high esteem in which he was held was remarkable to witness. Factory directors, vegueros, torcedores, Habanos distributors, journalists, enthusiasts, translators, photographers, humidor makers, collectors, archivists were all delighted to see Simon, sporting his trademark guayabera, panama hat, usually with a part smoked Habano in his hand and always with a moleskin notebook and pencil so he could be sure to note down anything of interest.

Simon was considered as part of the family by those with whom he worked closely with at Habanos S.A. They recognised in Simon a depth of love for cigars that combined decades of learning and research. He was a valued friend and colleague to many in Cuba and in 1998 he was awarded the prestigious ‘Habanos Man of the Year’ for Communications.

In 1999 Simon was asked by Francisco Linares, then President of Habanos S.A, to act as auctioneer for the inaugural Habanos Festival Dinner. It was on that night that Simon found himself sharing a stage with Fidel Castro for the first time. The auction raised $750,000 then a record for cigar auctions.  Soon afterwards Fidel Castro took the decision that the Habanos Festival should become an annual national Cuban event. Simon went on to serve as auctioneer at a further sixteen Festivals. He was meticulous in his preparation for each auction and would carefully script what it was he wanted to say about each humidor and the cigars they contained. During his tenure as auctioneer, over $15m was raised for Cuban Medical Aid. Simon once said, “It never fails to amaze me just how generous the cigar fraternity is when faced with a good cause”.

Simon retired as Marketing Director of Hunters & Frankau in 2009. He was subsequently appointed as a Non-Executive Director, a position he held for the rest of his life.  Following his retirement, he set up Simon Chase Limited, a consultancy practice based at the offices of Hunters & Frankau – an arrangement which suited everyone perfectly. His consultancy work included writing for a number of publications, travelling to attend and speak at cigar related events, correspondence with collectors, valuations of collections and advising on a number of Hunters’ marketing projects. In recent years, a large part of Simon’s time was taken up with legislative matters. He was involved, as Hunters & Frankau’s ITPAC (Imported Tobacco Products Advisory Council) representative, in the affairs of the Council for nearly twenty years.  He served two terms as Chair and a further two terms as Vice Chair.  His tenure coincided with a dramatic increase in the scale and complexity of the regulatory burden on our industry. Simon’s knowledge of our industry, together with his strong grasp of the workings of government departments and the underlying politics was unmatched. This knowledge, coupled with Simon’s dedication to our trade enabled us to navigate many of the hazards arising from restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion, the ban on smoking in indoor public places, the display ban, plain packaging proposals for Other Tobacco Products and the second-generation European labelling regulations. His contribution to the efforts of both Hunters & Frankau and ITPAC and the results he delivered have allowed us many of the freedoms we enjoy today. The exemption for sampling a cigar in a Specialist Tobacconist was one such achievement.

Simon was such an important part of our cigar community for such a long time. He contributed in more ways than can be measured to our industry and his influence spread far beyond the UK. To those of us lucky enough to have known him as a friend, colleague or an acquaintance, he will be remembered as a man of great integrity, humanity, intelligence and humour. He dedicated the greater part of his working life to cigars and for generations to come, cigar lovers will continue to learn about and enjoy cigars as a result of his enterprise.