Posted on Tuesday 23 August 2011 byUlster Business
Northern Ireland's man of the moment Jim Eastwood gives Ulster Business editor Symon Ross the low-down on The Apprentice process, getting advice from Lord Sugar and using Jedi mind-tricks in business
It's clear from the moment you meet Jim Eastwood he's a very confident guy.
Smart, charming and sure of his own ability, the Cookstown man stood head and shoulders above the other contestants on this year's series of The Apprentice when it came to the gift of the gab.
In making it to the final four he provided many of the show's memorable sayings and earning the nickname Jedi Jim for the brilliant moment he convinced another candidate to change his decision to take him into the boardroom to face being fired.
Since the show he's become just about the most famous man in Northern Ireland (excepting perhaps messrs McIlroy and Clarke) and when his website went live the day after the final show he received 6,000 emails within 24 hours.
He admits the reaction has amazed him, describing himself with no hint of false modesty as "just a normal bloke who has had an extraordinary experience".
"The public's reaction has been phenomenal, really positive and I think if it came down to public votes it may have been a different story," he says with a characteristic twinkle in the eye.
The 32-year-old was always a big fan of The Apprentice but it was only when the format changed from one where the winner got a job in Lord Alan Sugar's business empire to a prize of a £250,000 investment in a joint venture with the Amstrad boss that he decided to take the plunge.
"My family are very entrepreneurial and you develop a real desire – I'll give you a cliché – to paddle your own canoe. You want to put yourself out there," he explains.
"It probably attracted different people, not better or worse, but people who genuinely wanted to start a business and had a business plan, and thought the kudos that Lord Sugar would bring to it could take it from being ordinary to being extraordinary."
The winner of the show was inventor Tom Pellereau, whose ideas Lord Sugar seemed keen to harness from early on in the process. But Jim is quick to defend the authenticity of the programme against accusations of favouritism or fakery.
"The candidates have real credentials and Lord Sugar himself is obviously hailed as one of the top business people in the land, and so he wouldn't want to get involved in something of a spurious nature. Nor would the retailers you pitch to," he stresses.
He's also having none of my cynical suggestion that the tasks the candidates have to undertake are more about entertainment than business acumen.
"I'd say they are 100 per cent to test business acumen. They test your ability to think on your feet, your ability to lead, your ability to work in a team, all skills you'd use on a daily basis. You're working to deadlines, producing things, marketing them and selling them," he notes. "What they get from that is, by putting big personalities into a room together, they ultimately get entertainment as a spin-off."
While other Apprentice candidates schemed and formed alliances and rivalries, Jim's strategy was, he says, to simply "be himself".
Being himself involved a fair bit of Northern Irish blarney and the liberal use of clichés, which resulted in jokes at his expense by Lord Sugar's interviewers and host of the You're Fired after show Dara O'Briain. When asked to describe himself without using a cliché by Holywood's own Margaret Mountford, Lord Sugar's former aide, Jim famously replied he was "exactly what it says on the tin".
"We all signed up to the fact that it's an edit. If you say something that's a sound-bite and it's a clanger, rest assured it will be played," he laughs. "Being from Northern Ireland we do have a unique style of communication, and it got me pretty far. Any fun that they did poke at me, it was good fun. I laughed with it."
However, he is proud of the Jedi Jim moniker given to him by O'Briain – who joked that the Co. Tyrone man's ability to sway team mates to his way of thinking was akin to the mind control used by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.
"One of the key things in business is about influencing people in a positive way and bringing people with you and I think the Jedi Jim nickname just tied into that. I was delighted with it," he says.
Asked whether he was ever surprised about how he came across on screen Jim describes the experience of making the show as completely different to watching it.
"Certainly while you are in the process it was very intense, very competitive, very demanding in terms of your time, and there's very little sleep," he explains. "The viewer sees a snapshot and there is lots more that happens behind the scenes but often times they'd say, you've got 10 seconds, are you going to go with that, and it usually is a potential clanger. A lot of the time you will go with it because it is better to galvanise the troops than look indecisive."
But the would-be Apprentice is in no doubt he learned a huge amount about business from the experience.
"The business world isn't as hyper-intense as that, it's not so cut-throat or mercenary, so having gone to the extreme in that environment gives you a good appreciation for real business and how you should behave.
Also, watching Lord Sugar, how he operates, how incisive he is, how he articulates himself very succinctly, I could learn from that," he adds.
The gruff Lord Sugar of Clapton is not a man known for dishing out compliments, but he was so impressed by Jim's abilities that he gave him a certificate proclaiming him the best sales person in the world – a tag he's happy to accept.
"He's someone I will look towards for advice going forward because he's a shrewd operator and he's very good at cutting through b******t," he says. "We do keep in contact and I won't abuse that privilege, but I'll certainly use it."
As for what his future might hold the Apprentice star is non-committal. There's feverish demand for Jim Eastwood the public speaker, and he plans to do more of that – speaking on topics such as sales, motivation, leadership and entrepreneurship. His business plan in the show centred on education and he seems genuinely passionate about inspiring young people. He offers three top tips to aspiring young entrepreneurs: believe in yourself, be yourself and have a positive attitude.
"It is not about being arrogant or cocky, but having self-confidence and knowing what your strengths are and playing to them is really important these days. I found in the process that when the microscope was on me I was just being myself. People in life that try to be something that they're not get found out very quickly," says Jim.
"I just want to be the best I can be," he adds, straying briefly into cliché territory. "I'm not terribly driven by money, I understand and appreciate the value of it. But I just want to look back and say, I had potential and boy did I fulfil it."
To keep up with what Jim is up to go to www.jimeastwood.co.uk or follow him on twitter at @jim_eastwood_)