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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Sell it with flowers: competition is 'intense' for homes with outside spaces

Gardens add a tenth to the value of your home

A London estate agent yesterday put a price on having a garden. David Pollock of Greene & Co reckons it can increase a property's value by a tenth.

Spectators at the Isle of Wight music festival watch the World Cup on the big screen. Betting promotions were a feature of the tournament
Lenders have been accused of persuading vulnerable people to borrow expensive credit

Payday loan firms accused of bombarding vulnerable people with nuisance phone calls

Payday loan firms have been accused of bombarding financially vulnerable people with nuisance phone calls, after a debt charity reported that a third of its clients were plagued by the messages.

The foundation proposed that the Government sets up a scheme to help people avoid losing their homes

Mortgages: 'Homeowners could trade down to shared ownership to defuse rate rise timebomb'

A plan to defuse a “mortgage debt timebomb” when interest rates rise is published today amid warnings that 2.3m households could struggle with their repayments.

Current accounts are too costly and confusing, says CMA as it announces investigation into Britain's biggest banks

Competition regulator to investigate market where it's hard for customers to make comparisons and the big banks' charges can be set too high
All the signs have been pointing up for buy-to-let, but there are clouds on the horizon

Buy-to-let: is it a boom or a bubble fit to burst?

People borrowing to be landlords could face the same restrictions as homebuyers, with MPs voicing fears that property speculation may be overheating the market

Moment of truth for payday lenders: Watchdog plans to curb cost of short-term loans

The chief of the City watchdog, Martin Wheatley, spoke exclusively to The Independent's Simon Read about its attempts to control the worst excesses of unscrupulous high-cost credit companies

Consumers given power to choose a green deal

How would you like to be able to choose how your electricity is made and even where it come from? It may sound futuristic and fanciful but the independent supplier Co-operative Energy has made it a reality this week.

'Scrap the trap': calls for change grow as banks are told to play fair with loyal savers

City regulator says existing customers suffer worst rates

Motor insurers divided on proposals for whiplash ban

MPs want medical evidence for claims. Will this bring higher premiums?

British Gas repays £1m for mis-sold deals

British Gas was yesterday forced to pay back £1m to its customers after mis-selling them energy deals.

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

    Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

    £200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

    Training Programme Manager (Learning and Development)-London

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...

    Operations Engineer (Redhat, UNIX, Solaris, Data Centre, Cisco)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Operations Engineer (Redhat, UNIX, Solaris, Data...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices