Clay Roberts & Sam Phillips Join La Palina

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La Palina has announced that Sam Phillips and Clay Roberts have both joined the company, being named president and chief operating officer, respectively, as well as being made partners.

Both changes are effective immediately.

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La Palina IPCPR 2014 Booth

“I am excited to bring in Sam and Clay to lead our team,” said Bill Paley, La Palina’s owner, in a statement. “The company is making many changes and innovating in the super-premium cigar category. Sam and Clay will lead this evolution as their primary responsibility.”

He went on to call the additions part of his plan to put together a dream team of executives to lead La Palina into its next phase.

Both Phillips and Roberts have numerous years in the cigar industry; Phillips joined the industry in 1996 with Indian Tabac, which would become Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, and then spent four years with Alec Bradley as the vp of marketing. Phillips had been serving as a corporate consultant to La Palina since February 2015.

Roberts was most recently with Alec Bradley Cigar Co.; he entered the cigar industry with Rocky Patel Premium Cigars as well and spent time with A.J. Fernandez.

“This was an opportunity that this industry just doesn’t present, and it was a curious opportunity that I had never heard before,” said Roberts to halfwheel. “I asked Bill to make me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and he did.”

La Palina Goldie Laguito Robusto Extra Box 3

While both have been given official titles, Roberts told halfwheel that there will be a fair amount of overlap and partnering on the day-to-day operations of La Palina as they work to find the best combination of responsibilities along with Michael Massey, the company’s chief financial officer. He added that “traditional roles” in the cigar industry may not be appropriate for a company such as La Palina.

Massey is also now a partner in the business.

Phillips added that there are “absolutely and positively” plans to grow La Palina both domestically and internationally, though specifics about what that means between in-house reps and brokers is still being discussed at this point. No product line changes are in the immediate future, though Phillips added that they are looking at becoming a global brand that segments into different demographics, mentioning that they are looking at increasing the “accessibility” of the La Palina portfolio.

La Palina IPCPR 2015 booth

In a statement released Tuesday morning, Michael Serota, vp of operations at Alec Bradley said that “we thank Clay for his contribution to our family and wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

The move to make Phillips, Roberts and Massey partners should provide some stability to La Palina’s executive team. In the last 18 months the company has dismissed two national sales mangers and saw its longtime vice-president, Courtney Smith, resign.

Charlie Minato contributed to this story.

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Patrick Lagreid
About the author

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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