For the father and son team who lead James Group International, the term “impossible” is not a part of their everyday vocabulary. John A. James and John E. James don’t talk about “obstacles.” They talk about efficiency, accountability and a work ethic that includes phrases such as “no failure” and “no excuses.”
John A. James, founder and CEO of James Group, and his son John E. James, vice president of operations, share a military background that brings a unique leadership quality to their business. The company’s founder was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal. His eldest son is a West Point graduate who subsequently became a Ranger-qualified aviation officer and led two Apache platoons in combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Together with John A. James’ youngest son, Lorron James, who acts as vice president of business affairs, the family manages a global supply chain business that Crain’s Detroit Business ranked as Michigan’s eighth-largest logistics company with revenue growth of 266.7 percent in 2012. The CEO, however, sets a higher bar. “We aren’t comparing ourselves against other Michigan businesses,” he notes. “Our competitors are international, none of which are in the U.S.”
James Group provides export consolidation, import deconsolidation, sequencing, warehousing and foreign trade assistance. When the company began in 1971, its founder fought an uphill battle against regulations that made it nearly impossible for small transportation companies to enter the job market. The Interstate Commerce Act invoked in the 1800s grandfathered-in large businesses that monopolized the transportation industry. These incumbents regularly protested against the certification of young entrepreneurs, such as John A. James. He waged a battle that lasted 10 years and took him all the way to the Supreme Court.
“You would think I would be wiped out at this point,” John A. James says. “But, we had gained a lot of respect by that time and I had customers who supported me.”
Now, the sons have big shoes to fill. “There is a stark contrast,” John E. James comments. “When my father started, he was at the age that my brother and I are now. He was starting his company and going through his battles with the Interstate Commerce Commission, the legislature and Supreme Court. His big win was tearing down barriers to entry, not just for minorities, but for everyone. This is something that everyone around the country benefited from.
“If that could be done by a 30-year-old black man less than a decade after the Civil Rights Movement, then how much more could be done by two 30-year-olds with the advantages that we’ve seen and the doors we’ve had opened, and the shoulders we’ve stood on? How much more can we do? In order to ensure our business success our father’s grooming has given us all of what we needed, some of what we wanted and zero excuse to fail.”
John A. James fought discrimination head-on and ended up leveling the playing field for everyone. As the result, today, James Group International can focus on its mission of becoming a global logistics leader. The company plans to do this by increasing its information capacities and providing more transparency to OEMs, allowing them to monitor and manage their entire supply chain. The James family believes this is important because as it transitions from regional to global clients, such as major car manufacturers, the suppliers are multi-tiered. James Group must be able to provide information to the end-buyer about what is happening at every tier in every part of the world in case there is an issue abroad.
According to John E. James, the company strives to first meet the standard without fail, and then focus on continuous improvements in safety, quality, cost, delivery and convenience to the customer. “It’s not about being a minority anymore,” he notes. “You have to be the best supplier first. We are experiencing success; our team is very good at what it does.”
Both men believe in a hands-on approach and caring for the people who work with and for them. “Your people are who win the battles and who make the mission in both the business world and on the battlefield,” John E. James says.