Blazing a Trail
In an exclusive interview, Ruiz lays out his vision for the future of the iconic builder, revealing a new line of Cigarette-branded jet skis, superyachts, fishing boats, high-rises and more.
Alex Ruiz recently celebrated his 22nd birthday. However, for the University of Miami grad, there was a lot more to celebrate than just another year around the sun. In May, his father’s company, MSP Recovery—a platform for health-related claims recoveries—merged with Lionheart Acquisition Corp to form the second-largest SPAC ever, valued at $32.6 billion after going public. Ruiz was intimately familiar with the particulars of the deal, since the young entrepreneur was directly responsible for bringing his father, John H. Ruiz, together with Ophir Sternberg of Lionheart Capital. He then helped manage the merger.
One of the byproducts of this new partnership was the acquisition of Cigarette, which is as synonymous with high-powered luxury performance powerboats as Kleenex is to tissues. Together, the two owners purchased the Opa-Locka, Florida company from Skip Braver, the longtime owner of two decades who re-energized the flagging brand in the early aughts.
Now, that responsibility falls to the young Ruiz. Today, the 22-year-old Miami native was named CEO of the company, which is worth approximately $100 million. “I’m very excited to be the one to lead this legendary company now,” said Alex. “I can’t imagine a better brand to be at the helm of than Cigarette, because I’ve been on them since I was a little boy.”
It certainly seems like a fitting appointment. The youngest of three siblings, Alex and the entire Ruiz family share an equal passion for law as they do for Cigarette boats. (Alex plans on going to law school next year.) Growing up, his father, a Cuban-American, enjoyed owning multiple models, beginning with a 38 Top Gun in 2002. Back then, a 6-year-old Alex was in a life jacket and sunglasses “giving my dad the thumbs-up to go faster.”
That full-speed ahead approach punctuates their business strategy as well.
“Luckily, the company has grown threefold since we’ve taken it over and it’s only been three-and-a-half months,” said John. “Our revenue has grown three times over. Sales are through the roof, and I think a lot of it has to do with the marketing Alex has put together. So where is the company going? I’d rather have him tell you.”
Alex stressed a horizontal approach to product debuts in the near future, which span the gamut from a Cigarette-branded jet ski to a fishing boat to a superyacht—and even a high-rise in the vein of the Porsche Design Tower and Aston Martin Residences. At least two of those, the jet ski and fishing boat, are currently planned to debut early in 2022. While Cigarette has dabbled in center consoles in the past, Alex said this new one is different than the ones that have come before. Instead, this one has input “from a lot of different people with experience in the fishing market.”
Together, the three owners are pooling their networks to grow sales largely through word of mouth. This has translated to a jump in production, up from 20 to 50 boats being built this year alone. Next year they’re eying closer to 80. That’s a big increase for the Opa-Locka-based facility, which is a little over 100,000 square feet in size. Cigarette employs 75 people, including longtime industry vet Erik Christiansen. John disclosed they had recently acquired larger CNC machines with the goal of bringing more interior and parts production in-house. This will allow the builder to better retrofit older models. The company is also working on getting approval to be a Mercury authorized service and sales center, and expanding dealerships around the world.
Famously, Cigarette was founded by Don Aronow after racing a boat named The Cigarette, allegedly named after a boat fabled for hijacking rumrunners during Prohibition. His exploits on the racing circuit helped drive sales, as did the boats frequent cameos on Miami Vice. Enthusiasts included a diverse cast of luminaries such as George Bush Sr., Ringo Starr, King Juan Carlos of Spain and, of course, the infamous drug smugglers. Nowadays brand ambassadors have grown to include well-known athletes like Lebron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Tyler Herro.
Alex wants to maximize the legacy of Aronow and the brand through limited-edition merchandise, events and content. So expect to see a whole lot more of Cigarette in the coming months: at boat shows, product reveals, Art Basel and the F1 Miami Grand Prix. “We want to have the best content; there shouldn’t be anyone that has better content than us,” said Alex. “I want Cigarettes everywhere—Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok. I want boats going 100 miles an hour. Bringing Don Aronow’s history back for this younger generation, that’s the true spirit of Cigarette. It’s the same spirit I had riding in the back of that 38 when I was 6 years old and my dad hit 100 mph. Those are the memories that made me love boating so much, and that’s why I’m here and very excited to be a part of this.”
With all that on his plate—and law school looming next year—you would think Alex is constantly in the office (or cowering under a rock), but he still has time to get aboard his own 42-foot Auroris. “There’s nothing better than going 100 mph on a boat, with the wind in your face,” said Alex. “It’s a really thrilling experience.”
I imagine the same could be said for leading this iconic brand into the future.