By Eric Colby
Cigarette Racing Team, the legendary manufacturer of offshore powerboats, has been sold. Lionheart Capital founder and CEO Ophir Sternberg has partnered with billionaire entrepreneur John H. Ruiz to purchase the iconic brand from Skip Braver, who had owned the company for 20 years.
“I invest in different opportunities and I was speaking to Ophir,” recalled Ruiz. “He said, ‘I’m looking at putting together a deal to buy Cigarette.’ I said, I’m interested.”
That should come as no surprise since Ruiz has owned more Cigarettes than most people have had cars. Now 54, he started out in performance boats at the age of 15 with a 28’ Pantera powered by a pair of Evinrude outboards.
“I’ve had a lot of boats from Intrepids to Contenders to SeaVees to Hustlers, Wellcraft, but ever since I started with Cigarette, I stuck with that brand because it was head and shoulders above every other boat,” said Ruiz.
His current Cigarette fleet includes 41’ and 42’ center-consoles, plus a 50’ Marauder and a 59’ Tirranna. He had a Top Gun powered by twin Mercury Racing HP575 SCis for 11 years because it rode so well. Ruiz explained that most of his boating is done in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Bahamas.
In a statement, Sternberg said, “I am thrilled about our acquisition of Cigarette Racing and believe that Cigarette Racing’s brand is daring, defiant and pushes barriers. With that, my partner John H. Ruiz and I look forward to taking the company into its next chapter where we build upon the legacy of the brand and create significant value in the future through powerful partnerships and unique collaborations, production amplifications and increased distribution channels.”
Added Braver, “After 20 years of building the Cigarette product line and brand, I look forward to seeing Ophir and John’s vision for the company to become a reality. Lionheart Capital and John H. Ruiz share my commitment to quality and performance as well as my passion for Cigarette’s brand, and I’m confident in their ability to take the company to even greater heights based on their successful ventures, resources and business knowledge.”
A hands-on investor, Ruiz will act as a temporary CEO to ensure a smooth transition. He spoke highly of current company president Erik Christiansen. Braver will stay on as a consultant and his son Eric Braver will be retained.
“I’ll be involved day in and day out until things stabilize,” said Ruiz. “I want to make sure the quality of the product stays as it should and we’re excited about adding safety features and technological improvements.”
Much like another famous performance-boat manufacturer, Ruiz has a law degree, but he’s made his fortune in the tech world. “I create sophisticated data platforms, including technological advances for Medicare and Medicaid that let the government recover millions of dollars,” said Ruiz. Additionally, he developed LuminSea illuminated channel markers and has a patent on anti-collision technology built into them.
“I’m looking to bring anti-collision technology to the boats as well as other advances,” he said.
Ruiz also wants to restore the aura of Cigarette as a builder of high-performance offshore boats. “Lifestyle is great, but the most important thing to me in boating is when you cross the Gulfstream and the wind starts blowing you need to have a good performing boat so you feel safe,” he said. “I’ve always felt super safe in my Cigarette.”
He said a factory-backed offshore racing team is in the works and Ruiz wants to build 10 limited edition 28’ Cigarettes that harken back to Don Aronow’s original raceboat.
“I want to bring back the history,” Ruiz said. “Skip has maintained the quality and the name of the brand. That’s why I’m so excited about making this deal work.”