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Death and taxes: Entrepreneur BJ Cunningham speaks at LUMS

BJ Cunningham

15 March 2016

Serial entrepreneur and founder of Death cigarettes BJ Cunningham visited LUMS to talk about “Profiting from the Truth” last week.

In his hour-long talk, the speaker told an enthralled audience of students, alumni and staff the story of how he started off importing classic cars, but then ended up several hundred thousand pounds in debt when the market collapsed.

However, from there he went on to found Death cigarettes: a unique brand which, rather than seeking to deny or distance itself from the harmful effects of smoking, boldly admits it, even putting a skull and cross bones on their packaging.

Throughout his lively and entertaining talk, Mr Cunningham stressed the importance of honesty and “being who you really are”, particularly in marketing terms. Your brand is what people believe it is, he explained, and if you treat your customers with love, they will return it.

He offered several other important pieces of advice for the assembled audience, including that if an idea is too complicated to write down on the back of a beer mat, or explain in 15 seconds, it will probably fail or cost a lot of money.

Highlighting his initial difficulties in distributing his brand of cigarettes, he also added that it is not important to be “excellent” in one area; you must be “good enough” in all areas of business.

Another central theme of his talk was the idea that wherever there is a problem, there is an opportunity.

After the talk, Mr Cunningham said how much he had enjoyed it.

“I loved it! Watching people’s faces, they were clearly engaged," he said.

"What a privilege to tell that story!”

Current MBA student Shaswati Panda, who was in the audience, said: "BJ Cunnigham sure knows how to deliver a talk that is not only fascinating but also captivating. I think the best part is you can choose what you want to learn from his experiences and how to inculcate that in your life.

"The line that struck me the most was when he said: ‘You will be slammed on the beach of what you wished for and it will be worth exploring’. It’s just so true. We get caught up in our problems so much that we miss out the opportunities that always lurk around. That was my biggest takeaway from the session and I’m glad I attended it."