Kwame Jackson may have lost to Bill Rancic in the first season of The Apprentice, but he’s still a winner. The Harvard Business School graduate has taken his 15 minutes of reality TV fame and run with it. Jackson, 30, is in the process of writing a book (tentatively titled Betting on Yourself), is putting deals together with his company, Legacy Holdings LLC (which he founded with two college friends), and will host his own CNN business-themed show in the spring.
But the North Carolina native – a bachelor who lives in New York City – hasn’t been too busy to watch the new season of The Apprentice. The original season’s No. 2 man tells PEOPLE about his experience on the show, what it taught him and who he predicts will walk away the newest Donald Trump employee.
You’ve got a lot going on. Fill me in.
(My company) Legacy Holdings is morphing. Our main business line is our real-estate development company. And then our second business line is television production – it’s called Legacy Communications Group.
And what about your CNN show? When will it premiere?
In the spring. I don’t want to say much about it because I like to under-promise and over-deliver. That’s the hallmark of a true businessperson.
You’re writing a book, too.
My book is not, like a lot of my contemporaries, about my four or five lessons from The Apprentice. It’s all about the notion of when an opportunity comes along in your life, how do you capitalize on it? The Apprentice is not a linear, logical job change for someone who went to Harvard Business School and worked on Wall Street. But opportunities present themselves and what you do with those opportunities is up to you.
Who instilled ambition in you?
My mom was a big impact in my life. She passed away at 41 from cancer and was the first person in our family to go to college as a scholarship student at Howard University. Her mom was a ninth-grade educated receptionist and cleaned houses at night, and her father was illiterate. So for her to take advantage of the opportunity of education without any role models, that says a lot about her.
What did you take with you from The Apprentice experience?
It gave me the confidence to want to be an entrepreneur – to know that I could do this for myself. I literally had hundreds of job offers. The question is, how do you turn all those down and begin to believe in yourself and have the confidence that you can do this on your own?
Who are you in touch with from the show?
I just got a very nice Christmas note from Donald Trump. I talk to Troy and Katrina a lot. What I have been getting is ad infinitum calls from the current Apprentice cast. That’s been crazy.
What have they been calling about?
Just, “We’ve monitored your success since the show, you seem to be doing very well. We’d just like to pick your brain and learn.” I’ve met with some people and tried to offer some advice.
Who do you think is going to win?
Jennifer. I think she has impeccable credentials. She definitely has what it takes on the intellectual level. And then it just depends on how she’s able to execute as a businessperson. Also, it’s probably good in terms of balance for a woman to win this year. And she’s a very attractive woman, so part of it is the television quotient. We’re not talking about who’s gonna get a job at IBM, so let’s just keep it real.
On a personal note, are you dating anyone now?
I’m always out dating and meeting great people. I’m young, I’m single, I’m 30, I live in New York City. Things are good.
Had you been the one to walk away with a job with Donald Trump, do you think your opportunities would be more limited?
Without a doubt. I’ve had complete control over my time and my business-building ventures, so that has allowed me a lot more freedom.
And where will you be this Thursday night for The Apprentice finale?
I’ll be there live at Lincoln Center.