This blog was written prior to the Cross Continent MBA program merger with the Global Executive MBA program.
The Duke Cigar Club, established by our class in late 2016, was one of Duke’s formally recognized “non-essential” academic clubs. It was certainly the indulgent and extravagant type. Solidarity through cigars was the truism held by members and instilled by our Club Chairman James Watson. As individuals, we were very type A, but as a group, we were a strong type B. Our demographics were wide, our backgrounds were broad, our cigar experience was diverse, and our levels of enthusiasm for cigars were high.
Anyone that’s smoked with us can tell you, we formed a pretty laid back and nonchalant group. If you didn’t have a cigar, we provided you one. If you didn’t know how to smoke a cigar, we taught you how. If you just wanted to come and hang out, we welcomed you. We had good conversations and created good memories over the course of the program. The club made it a point to have one formal meet at least once during each residency. However, many of us got together in well-sized groups at other points during our stays.
To be honest though, it wasn’t about the cigars. It was about the process—the thoughts and the conversations happening during the cigar smoking. One could interpret, as individuals, we would always try to toast the foot as best one could, we’d check the draw to ensure the main burn went down evenly, and then we’d sit back and admire our work while enjoying the flavors from below the equator. These were the different steps along the cigar-puffing process, but the interesting part was the conversations and often the facisnating people we met along the way.
For example, one of our memorable encounters was in India. A small group of us was smoking at our hotel and happened to spark up a stimulating conversation with a couple of gentlemen in the lobby cigar lounge. It turned out they were the chairman of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce, and one of the directors at the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (US FDA equivalent), respectively. It afforded us the opportunity to discuss and learn more about what it’s like doing business in India, and it almost led to an impromptu corporate visit.
However, for the most part, we were just looking for ways to have some downtime and blow off steam from work, study, and life. Berlin, for example, was a time when everyone was burnt out from the previous term’s classes. So, early on in the residency, we all ended up at Newton’s, a small bar near our hotel. And there is nothing like being burnt out, in a new city, with some music and a few cigars and cocktails to get a group of students, program administrators, and faculty to let loose and bond.
I’m grateful that Duke provided us with the opportunity to host these cigar sessions around the world. In the end, the great cigars we smoked in the Cigar Club were not defined just by their rich aromas and smooth flavors, but by the ambiance of their indulgence and the people with whom they were shared.