Gurkha Cigars will be moving onward without its founder. The company announced on June 10, 2020 that Kaizad Hansotia, founder of the company, would be resigning from his position as the chairman of Gurkha, effective immediately. This comes after a tumultuous week following social media posts that appeared on Hansotia’s social media accounts.
On June 6, Gurkha posted a message on its social media accounts acknowledging there questionable posts that appeared on Hansotia’s private Facebook account. In its statement at the time, Gurkha addressed the posts by saying, “To our Gurkha Nation–Kaizad Hansotia, owner of Gurkha Cigars, had erroneous posts on his private Facebook account. We believe the account was hacked, and it has since been deleted. The posts made in no way reflect the beliefs of this company.”
On June 8, that post was followed up with a video message and written statement from Kaizad Hansotia that read:
“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.”
The reaction and response to these statements were varied, with some voicing their continued support of Hansotia and the Gurkha brand while others called for a boycott of the brand. By June 10, the situation had changed once again with Gurkha releasing a statement that announced Hansotia’s resignation and that Jim Colucci, who had joined the company in January 2019, would be assuming the role of CEO and president of the company. Colucci had been overseeing the operations of the company, making his transition to CEO and president even easier. The company also announced that once its current packaging and inventory is depleted, future Gurkha packaging would no longer bear the name “K. Hansotia.” Here’s what else the company had to say about the departure of Hansotia and the situation that led this announcement:
“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.”
During a two hour town hall session held via Zoom on June 10, members of Gurkha’s management and sales team addressed Hansotia’s resignation head on, including addressing the concerns of many Black cigar smokers that questioned the hacking claims and brought up a long history of insensitive and charged posts from Hansotia in the past. The Zoom session included the reveal by Colucci that the company was in the process of finding someone to buyout Hansotia’s 50 percent shares in Gurkha in an effort to divest him from the company. Colucci, along with the company’s marketing director, Christine Martinez de Castro, and national sales director Juan Lopez, referred to Hansotia’s actions and postings as being inappropriate, damaging and not reflective of the Gurkha brand and its employees. Colucci also revealed it was him who told Hansotia that he would have to completely divest himself from the company and step away after reviewing past postings made by Hansotia on social media. Though questions were raised on how aware Hansotia is of social media and the negative impact of shared posts and comments, Gurkha’s remaining management team continuously denounced his posts and vowed to continue the conversation with all of its customers, but especially the black cigar community, and that it would continue its community and charitable efforts. The company’s employees stated that it would have to work at regaining the trust of its customers but that it is committed to moving forward and is making changes and open to holding conversations with retailers and consumers that have questions. Those who have questions or comments are encouraged to direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org.