Five lessons in success from the career of Eddie Jordan

The Formula One veteran shares his most valuable insights

“I’m the luckiest man in the world,” Eddie Jordan recently told the Gentleman’s Journal Podcast. He was talking about his remarkable rollercoaster of a career, of course — from banker, to budding racing driver, to Formula One team owner, to media pundit and legend of the sport. But there’s a great deal more at play here than simply luck. Eddie has that indefinable quality of eminently successful people that you wish you could bottle — something magical between charm and cheek, poise and pose, guts and guile. This is what people in Silicon Valley used to call ‘secret sauce’, perhaps (though one suspects Eddie would have little time for that cliche). Sadly, it is not yet available in liquid form — but we have attempted to distill a few pearls of wisdom from the great man, even so.

1. Value education

Jordan often talks about the importance of his upbringing. One of the things he has felt most fortunate about is the quality of his education in Ireland. And a lot of that comes down to the way that schooling was so central to his community when he was growing up. It’s important, he believes, to value our education and to champion our educators. These are the key foundation stones of success.

eddie jordan car

One of Jordan’s early team cars

“The headmaster in any school was considered to be alongside the surgeon, or the head of police, or the archbishop. He was in that circle of really important people in my community. I feel that, nowadays, there’s not many school teachers like that that I come across. That’s a pity, because I think we need to embrace them. We mustn’t let education get away from us. We must make sure that we are there, we are assisting, we are helping them. I had a good education. And I had the choice of going into dentistry. It was either that or be a priest, and I didn’t fancy being a priest at that stage. I’d found girls and I was away with the lunatics…”

2. Be a villain

People often call Eddie Jordan a hustler. According to him, that’s far too “gentle”:

“I was worse than that — I was a villain! I mean that in the nice sense. You wanted to stay within the law, of course. But I would do anything — anything — to make money. I was in confrontation with all the banks I worked at, for example. I would have four or five cars in the car park ready for sale, and I was in the car loan section at the bank — so I would try to encourage someone who was buying a car to buy it this way rather than going to the garage next door. The bank managers got a bit grumpy with me, especially for parking my cars in their slots — and particularly when my cars were better than theirs! They loved it in some ways, but they hated it in others. Then things just escalated from there.”

3. Enjoy the skirmish

Jordan’s success at dealmaking often came down to his enjoyment of the natural friction of a negotiation. Where others might shy away from confrontation, he would thrive in it. This gave him an edge over his competitors — though it was often an edge leavened by a puckish charm.

nikki lauda

Nikki Lauda

james Hunt

James Hunt

“I’m in my seventies now. But if I don’t have my daily skirmish with aggravation I feel deprived. I always have to have that. Generally, the kids know to avoid me if I haven’t had a ruck with someone, as they know they’re next. I wasn’t naturally a confident person, but I probably am now. Confidence is something you have to acquire. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s about getting the foundations and the building blocks that allow you to feel equal to somebody else, or that psychologically you feel you can compete against someone else.”

4. Keep good company (and know your strengths)

Jordan was a good driver. But his teammates were even better. After winning the Formula Atlantic championship, the young racer was swiftly signed to Marlboro Racing, in what he still thinks was “the biggest piece of luck” in his entire life. Soon, he was racing in Formula 3, and was rubbing shoulders with those Marlboro teammates in Formula 1 — James Hunt, Nikki Lauda, Alain Prost, and Emerson Fittipaldi.

“A lot of that rubs off on you,” he says. “You had that little swagger.” Jordan admits he learned a lot of his early marketing nous off people like James Hunt (“the wizard”). But it’s Nikki Lauda’s wisdom that really stuck with him. “He was about to be world champion. And he said to me: ‘Eddie, you’re a good guy, and you’ve got a fantastic knowledge of the financial aspects of things, and commercially you’re better than any of us. Why don’t you consider running a team?’”

ayrton senna

Ayrton Senna

“Nikki was the one who pushed me. And then it kicked off from there. People kept saying you need to see this driver, or that driver. And that’s how the great Ayrton Senna came to us. I had that ability — because I was a driver for a very long time, but never scaled the highest level — I could see what the little piece was that was missing in drivers. It was easy to see that in Senna. Then I had [Martin] Brundle, who was also brilliant. Even Damon Hill — I gave him his first chance in Formula 3.”

5. Embrace underdog status (and have fun)

Jordan’s superpower, as he launched his team into the bear pit of Formula One, was his underdog status. Other team leaders saw him as an outsider who played the fool and took the whole thing as a bit of a joke. But they didn’t see the steely determination behind the facade. And this allowed him to creep up on them and compete, despite their superior firepower and budgets.

“I was ridiculously serious, but I had this facade, I had this character that needed to be played out — I was the Irish joker, I was jack the lad. And I hoped they wouldn’t take me too seriously. It was a really wonderful game. And they never twigged how serious we actually were.”

"Confidence is something you have to acquire. It’s not something you’re born with."

The persona also worked wonders with potential sponsors, who quickly realised they would get 20 times their sponsorship spend in press coverage due to Jordan’s antics, stunts and gathering cult status.

“I would tell sponsors: guys, you are going to sponsor me, I have a feeling about that, and we’re going to have the most rollercoaster, successful time of it — so why don’t we just cut to the chase and find a contract that’s fair to both sides. People used to say — wow, we’ve never heard that approach before.’ But it worked.”

Click here to listen to our full interview of Eddie Jordan on the Gentleman’s Journal podcast.

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