B&W chief: Tobacco has bright future
Nicholas Brookes, chairman and chief executive officer of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., yesterday posed what might seem to be an odd question for a man in his position.
Why would anyone want to invest or make a career in the tobacco industry?
The challenges faced by the industry result in a stimulating environment that helps draw workers, Brookes said in answering his own query before a meeting of the Venture Club at the Seelbach Hilton.
His is an industry under fire. Health organizations and state and federal governments have all been on the attack. Settlements with states over the costs of medical treatments related to smoking have driven up the costs of cigarettes, as have rising taxes. At the same time, less-expensive imports are forcing a competition based on price.
The industry has always "prompted trade, economic development and controversy," Brookes said.
That controversy, he said, contributes to Brown & Williamson's ability to recruit and retain talented workers. "Our business is one of the most challenging and therefore one of the most stimulating to be involved in."
Additionally, workers are attracted to Brown & Williamson's status as part of a major international company, British American Tobacco Plc.
A recent acquisition moved the parent firm up to the No. 2 cigarette company in the world, behind Philip Morris.
"Our mission is being No. 1 in the world," Brookes said.
"We don't believe that being in tobacco and being an ethical business enterprise are mutually exclusive activities," he added.
While acknowledging that tobacco is an industry under siege, Brookes said: "We plan to invest for the long term."
The B&W chairman brought laughter from his luncheon audience of venture capitalists after noting that scientists have found evidence of nicotine byproducts in the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptians.
"Happily we haven't yet heard of any Egyptian law firms claiming compensation for the heirs of deceased pharaohs," Brookes quipped.
More seriously, he said the finding suggests there may have been trade in tobacco between the Americas and North Africa "possibly thousands of years before Christ."