Great cars, lousy karma

My biggest mistake; BJ Cunningham of `Death' cigarettes

"So if you are interested in this clearance stock call The Karma Connection and ask for the man in the steaming bath with the razor blade screaming for his mother... So ended the last press release I sent out, as my first entrepreneurial venture, with pedal to the metal, headed for oblivion.

The Karma Connection was my first foray into business, fresh out of a post-graduate degree in three-dimensional design (pottery class). It was a relatively simple business, trading the price and quality differentials between the UK and California in classic sports cars and Harley Davidson motorcycles - both great passions of mine.

The idea was to connect UK customers with the rust-free car of their dreams, at the right price. In short, to inject positive karma into the classic car trade.

At the time in the Eighties, classic cars were booming, the sterling/dollar exchange rate was favourable and you simply couldn't go wrong. I spent half the year in California and the desert belt, purchasing bikes and cars, riding them across the two-lane blacktops of America en route to the coast and the container ports. The other half of the year was spent selling them in the UK.

In most cases the cars were sold before they were even seen in the UK and almost without exception, for a two-year period, I doubled my money on every vehicle. Luxury.

I was young and I believed in it. This was the very late Eighties and all was still fantastically well. My initial investment in one Karman Ghia eventually translated into a fleet of exotic cars and beautiful bikes.

The idea of consolidating profits or `risk management' seemed ridiculous. This was a gravy train and I thought I could lick the bowl. I was oblivious to any macro-economic factors, every little deal I turned seemed absolutely separate from the wider economic cycle. As far as I was concerned this could never end.

What I absolutely and resolutely failed to understand was that the whole market for my vehicles was a `bubble'. My customers were buying not for their personal use but to sell on at a greater profit.

Karma, indeed. I was a tiny link in a huge chain but couldn't see past my own steering wheel. The bank loved me, my girlfriend loved me, the world was my lobster.

When it went wrong it went horribly wrong. I had pounds 750,000 worth of cars and bikes in containers coming down the Panama Canal and life was a breeze. Then a Ferrari failed to reach its reserve at auction in London. This (in my world) tiny hiccup catastrophically changed my life.

The bubble had burst. The whole market went into a nose-dive and I was quite literally up a creek without a paddle. I watched helplessly as the market collapsed, taking me with it.

My stock, my beautiful stock, was falling out of bed at a rate of tens of thousands of pounds per week and I took it all extremely personally. I believed someone, everyone, was out to stuff me. My old pals at the bank seemed to turn in an instant into demons. My relationship with my girlfriend went down the toilet, as did the previously simple and straightforward relationship with my business partner. Everything turned into a nightmare, bad karma.

My mistake was the old `eggs in one basket' classic, coupled with tunnel vision and zero true market perspective. My eggs cooked up into one nasty omelette and I had to eat it. In the end I managed to offload my stock to a Japanese guy whom I chanced upon. He saved me thousands but I hated him for it. I was left for dead, another festering road kill of the Eighties.

Drowning my sorrows in LA led to Death cigarettes. What goes around comes around, Death seemed like the right move. It took me four years to climb out of the debt with my bank, who were in some respects incredibly forgiving with such a messy and naive young pup.

I learnt that while you must believe the unbelievable to make the impossible possible, you must also remove the rose-tinted glasses and never believe your own hype. Too bad you're gonna die."

BJ Cunningham is chairman and founder of the Enlightened Tobacco Company (ETC) , which makes Death cigarettes. He was talking to Paul Slade.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search

EU to scrap roaming charges in 2017: European Commission under fire for taking so long to act

UK consumer groups complained that British holidaymakers face another two years of mobile phone misery before the law comes into effect

On the money: Yorkshire building society has demonstrated that it is taking the P2P industry seriously

Is peer-to-peer lending a risk worth taking?

The P2P industry must do more to shake off an unjustified image of being too complex and risky for the everyday saver, says Andrew Hagger

Generating grievances: Scottish Power's Longannet station in Fife

Questions of Cash: Scottish Power says it's sorry - again and again

Six of the energy company's customer have cause to blow a fuse this week

Will Patisserie Valerie be the portfolio's sweet spot?

Derek Pain: 'Patience is a virtue but maybe I should cut and run'

Derek's portfolio is currently suffering because of his failure to be more ruthless

There are now more than three million people in “severe problem debt”

Debt managers are misleading vulnerable people, warns watchdog

One debtor was given a repayment plan that would have taken 125 years to repay

Challengers are smashing the traditional high street banks when it comes to offering decent savings rates

Ignore the new breed of savings institutions and you'll lose interest

NatWest has ripped up its pledge to never be the last bank in town

NatWest pledged five years ago it wouldn't close the last bank in town. Now villagers have been told the branch shuts in September

When the last bank closes, local shops quickly go out of business

Under new state pension rules we will all be much worse off

Why did no one notice? The Government hides behind complexity, says Neasa MacErlean

Bogus Islington landlord scams public for £20,000 in fake deposits

It’s not just Islington... Simon Read warns renters and landlords about a nationwide fraud operation

Questions of Cash: The paperwork wasn't right so I was left high and dry with a broken washing machine

A reader encountered a problem with a Currys washer/dryer care plan

Borrowers should steer clear of established providers to get the best rates

Interest rates have never been cheaper if you want a five-figure personal loan but for lower-value loans it's a very different picture

Personal banking: Banking chiefs at NatWest and RBS insist that they are over the worst of the technical issues but customers are still complaining of payment issues. NatWest has waived overdraft fees and told customers they can withdraw £100 more than their limit over the next few days

People’s bank in crisis again: What should you do about the NatWest/RBS meltdown?

Thousands still waiting for payments to go through

The average UK household is set to hold close to £10,000 in unsecured debt by the end of 2016

If they don't get help, debtors face 30 years of financial hell

There are many people in dangerous debt who don’t seek advice

RBS/NatWest meltdown: some customers may have to wait until Saturday for their cash

Some 600,0000 payments have been delayed many of which could be crucial

Renters' warning: bogus landlords are tricking potential tenants out of thousands

An army of tricksters are using online websites to trap their victims

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

    Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

    £40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

    SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

    £22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map