Gurkha Cigars Founder and CEO Steps Down Amid Controversy
May and June have been a tumultuous time for many around the world, given the ever changing climate over COVID-19 and in particular the skyrocketing race tensions and resulting protests and wide-spread violence in the US spurred by the horrific death of George Floyd at the hands of a white, Minneapolis police officer. Once again, our society is forced to reckon with the historically sensitive subject of racial inequality and injustice.
Expressing once’s views on such matters can be harmless or explosive, two scenarios which are separated by a razor thin line. Founder and long-time CEO of Gurkha Cigars, Kaizad Hansotia, is stepping down after it was discovered by Gurkha management that his private Facebook page contained, what it first reported as, inappropriate posts related to the ongoing protests and violence reported around the world. On June 10, one of the first to break the news, Tobacco Business Magazine, reported Gurkha’s official announcement that Hansotia would be resigning that same day.
All of Hansotia’s social media accounts were immediately shut down in response to what his management team referred to as “a long history of insensitive and charged posts.” The posts allegedly were political and racial in tone resulting in the company immediately distancing itself from it’s founder and diving in to immediately heal wounds within their loyal customer base particularly Black cigar smokers.
It was reported on June 8 that a video message and written statement from Kaizad Hansotia was released:
“Last week there were very insensitive and disrespectful posts made on my Facebook account. Unfortunately, I WAS hacked though it didn’t come to my attention for a couple of days, and I have since deleted ALL of my social media as a precaution. The posts in question were made on my personal FACEBOOK and not my Instagram account, which had no such content. I know the fact that I was hacked is difficult to believe considering some of my previous political posts, but it is those political posts which most likely put me in people’s cross hairs as a target of the hacking. As a company, we stay away from being political, but let me be very clear about something… Racism is NOT a political issue. Injustice is NOT a political issue. These are HUMAN issues that cannot be tolerated and should be important to everyone, regardless of political affiliation. I stand by peaceful protests, and I believe what we are witnessing today is way too long overdue. We should not and cannot stand by and watch or support racism on a personal or an institutional level. I am humbled and ashamed that I have hurt anyone or have made any comments in the past that would in any way lend itself to this injustice. I am also ashamed that anything I may have done would make my employees look bad or reflect poorly on the company because that is simply unfair to them and also does not reflect their individual beliefs, and yet, my actions are hurting them.
“As a company, we have supported the fight against injustice and organizations fighting for change. We, as a company, do not make a habit of speaking of our charitable contributions because we do not give to organizations for the purpose of good PR, we give support because it is our social responsibility and our efforts to enact change. We will continue to partner with, and support, these organizations and the end to inequality. Black lives matter. Eradicating racism matters. Ending injustice matters. Standing together as a community matters.”
Initially, the company responded showing support for Hansotia’s hacking claim, and while the company-wide reaction was mixed, ultimately Hansotia’s fate was sealed. Shortly after announcing Hansotia’s resignation, Jim Coluci, who joined the company a little over a year ago in 2019, was officially named acting President and CEO. It was decided as one of the first orders of business in a post-Hansotia era at Gurkha Cigars that part of the branding that included “K. Hansotia” be forever stricken from all future packaging. Additionally, Coluci made it clear he would be demanding Hansotia fully divest himself of his 50% stake in the company.
Gurkha Cigars made the following statement:
“At Gurkha, we believe smoking a cigar should always be an enjoyable and unifying experience. We are outraged and saddened at the content of previous posts made on Mr. Hansotia’s personal social media accounts. These in no way reflect the position or beliefs of the company, it’s founding mission or its employees. We stand in solidarity against racism and for racial justice. We cannot and will not tolerate words or acts of hate, injustice or oppression. We understand that because of the actions of our founder, we must work to regain the trust of our customers and cigar community. We look forward to working toward this goal together.”
Hansotia “founded” Gurkha in the late 1980s while on vacation in India. During his travels he stumbled upon a Portuguese man rolling and selling cigars he called “Gurkhas” – the name originated from cigars hand-rolled by colonial British soldiers in honor of the fierce Nepalese mercenaries. Hansotia was so enamored with them he offered and purchased the man’s entire inventory and tobacco for the king’s ransom of about $149. Hansotia’s initial idea was to make some cigars and give boxes of them as gifts to his clients who purchased items from his family’s line of luxury timepieces.
Hansotia would later take his brand to cigar industry masters, like the Torano family among others, and the commercial Gurkhas were born. Gurkha produces some of the most expensive and sought after cigars on the planet, and as advertised, are enjoyed by royalty and heads of state. Many have a love-hate relationship with the voluminous portfolio, particularly where quality is concerned. 99 Cigars has reviewed 2 Gurkhas in the past – Legend Vintage 2001 and Seduction. – In Fumo Pax!