Belfast Telegraph

Jedi Jim's epic battle against the evil Lord

Jim Eastwood's legendary powers of persuasion earned him his Stars Wars moniker, but they weren't enough to coax Lord Sugar into business. Nevertheless, David Elliott found the force was still strong with the swashbuckling Cookstown native

The Apprentice has been something of a television phenomenon over the last few years and one that hasn't gone unnoticed by this particular business reporter.

In fact, in the interests of full disclosure it's probably best I lay my cards on the table at the start of this story rather than lull you into a false sense of objectivity.

I have watched pretty much every episode of the show since it first began in 2005 and have lived the highs and lows, the tasks and treats and the boardroom bawls during that time.

Of course, an admiration for the show and its format doesn't mean a fondness for the apprentices themselves, rather an interest in the personality traits the weekly tasks expose.

In essence, I enjoy watching Lord Sugar's 16 wannabes sweat under pressure.

Some of them are endearing, some of them you can relate to and some of them you would struggle to work with if you reared them yourself.

Still, given half a chance I'd want to meet them, if only to see if they were the same in real life as they are on the show.

When an invitation to interview Jim Eastwood, the Cookstown man who made it into the last four of this year's series, arrived I jumped at the chance.

Of course I wanted to hear his views on entrepreneurship, the local economy and what he's going to do next but most of all I wanted to see whether he lived up to his 'Jedi Jim' moniker.

Would he use the force on my over-tired and easily-led mind? He'd certainly only have to set it to the 'low' if he did.

Meeting Jim it's immediately clear that his boundless charm and much talked about 'people skills' aren't just a show for the cameras, as he leaps out of his chair to grab my hand and offer a warm Cookstown welcome.

But while the exterior may be warm, I want to know if the engine room does what it says on the tin, as the great man said himself in reply to Holywood woman Margaret Mountford's plea for Jim to describe himself without using clichés.

And while I'd love to be able to report that our interview was studded with cheesey clichés and business speak, I have to admit that it wasn't and we were both singing from the same hymn sheet.

The most obvious question I wanted to know is why anyone would want to put themselves through such a gruelling selection process in front of millions of viewers?

To Jim, it seems the change in the show's format was the trigger.

Having previously offered up a job to the lucky winner at the end of the 12 week process, Lord Alan Sugar was now stumping up £250,000 to go into business with the top apprentice and that appealed.

"I didn't want a job with Lord Sugar," said Jim in an interview with Business Telegraph. "But as soon as it changed to a business partnership I thought 'that's for me.'"

As his business pitch in the last episode revealed, he was thinking about providing E.learning for young people were he to win the contest.

"I'm pretty entrepreneurial outside my full-time job. I do a lot of work in the education sector but there's only me and it needed scope, scale and profile.

"I couldn't believe that this opportunity was being presented in terms of The Apprentice. (The new format) could take an ordinary business idea and make it extraordinary.

"And I've been very unashamed by that fact that Lord Sugar could provide that profile and kudos, particularly with his links to education."

As it turned out, the Amstrad king didn't go for Jim's idea but instead plumped for inventor Tom Pellereau, a decision Jim has come to terms with. "Tom's a product man and Lord Sugar's a product man, so it's no surprise." But despite not winning the top prize, Jim said he's learned a lot from the experience and has taken heart from Lord Sugar's assertion that he's the 'greatest salesperson in the world'.

Not that he was lacking self confidence.

"I was blindly focused on winning," he said.

"You have to go in prepared to give it everything. For instance, everybody packs their suitcase when they go to the boardroom but I didn't pack mine.

"I thought to myself, 'if you pack your bag you're halfway out the door'.

"Through my brand of positivity and trying to stay motivated, I was thinking 'I'm staying in this'."

You may be thinking such boisterous thoughts are typical of an Apprentice contestant but of course Jim manages to endear himself by adding "secretly I was probably thinking 'I can buy a toothbrush at a service station'."

This boy's good, or else he's using those famous powers of persuasion which earned him the Star Wars nickname.

These were highlighted brilliantly in one of the early boardroom battles when he managed to persuade fellow contestant Leon Doyle to reverse a decision to blame him for the failure of a task.

It was an amazing lesson in persuasion and one of the standout moments of the show.

"I knew that the team thought I shouldn't have been brought in," he said.

"Then the tables got turned and I reacted very naturally. I certainly stick up for myself because I've played a lot of sport and the lessons learned from it have carried through in business (he's a keen cyclist and plays both gaelic football and soccer).

"But would I do it again? Every day of the week."

As you'd expect, the offers of jobs and business opportunities are rolling in, which Jim said he's very privileged to receive, but for the moment he's not rushing into anything and is still working in sales for printers W-amp;G Baird, who incidentally founded The Belfast Telegraph.

With a new baby on the way in a few weeks, Jim has his feet firmly placed on the ground and hopes, despite what he describes as some rollercoaster edits, he came across well on screen.

"I hope I came across as someone who can work in a team, has good leadership skills and who could influence people positively to get the right outcome.

"I'm by no means the finished article but I got an opportunity to showcase all those skills."

There. I didn't say it was completely cliché free but having spent half an hour with him it was difficult not to like Jedi Jim.

There's no doubt he's inspired plenty of local people both young and old to take a look at how they operate in their own businesses or jobs and if he can spur a bit of entrepreneurship then that can only be a good thing for the country as a whole.

His irresistible gift of the gab is this young apprentice's weapon of choice

  • “I’m not a show pony or a onetrick pony, I’m not a jack-ass or a stubborn mule, and I’m definitely not a wild stallion that needs to be tamed. I am the champion thoroughbred that this process requires.”
  • “This is actually the Dutch national umbrella” — Jim stretches the truth when trying to sell an orange umbrella to some Dutch tourists. He sealed the deal, obviously.
  • “Lucky customers” — preparing uncooked nachos for Team Venture’s ‘Mexican’ restaurant Caracas, Jim welcomes the first diners. It turns out naming a Mexican restaurant after the capital of Venezuela isn’t an ironic nor winning idea.
  • “Go big or go home” — Jim sums up a pitch to a group of wide-eyed biscuit buyers who seemed to come under the power of the Cookstown man and give him an order for 800,000 of their ‘Special Stars’ biscuits.
  • “It was like pushing treacle up a hill” — Jim finds selling products in Paris a bit sticky.

Eastwood junior was a chip off the old block

Jim started work in his father’s fish and chip shop chipping potatoes from the age of nine and went on to become sales and marketing manager at printers W&G Baird. His father still runs Eastwood’s chip shop on the main street in the town and his family are well known in the area. Jim, who was All Ireland cycling champion as a teenager, admires Richard Branson and describes himself as “driven, selfmotivated, resilient and an eternal optimist.” He is only the second Northern Irish contestant in seven years of The Apprentice, following in the footsteps of trainee stockbroker Ben Clarke.