For the last 40 years, Tom James has been at the helm of Raymond James Financial Inc., the St. Petersburg financial services company co-founded by his father in the early 1960s.
He relinquished his CEO duties in May 2010 to retain the title of executive chairman, but it doesn't mean he's retired.
“I've gone from a 70-hour work week to 50 hours,” James said during a recent interview at the company's Carillon headquarters. Now at age 67, he remains as active on a daily basis at Raymond James as he did when he took on the title of CEO in 1970 and doesn't show any inclination of slowing down.
An avid supporter of the arts, James served as president of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, which will open its new $36 million bayfront location Jan. 11. He expects the new museum, designed with hints of the same surrealism demonstrated in Dali's own works, to become an even stronger draw for local tourists and residents.
“The Dali is going to be a great addition to downtown St. Petersburg,” says James, who also owns a vast collection of Southwestern art at Raymond James headquarters worthy of its own museum. “A lot of money and effort has gone into creating this iconic facility with the great collection that we have.”
James is deeply involved in other aspects of the community, including serving as immediate past chairman of the Florida Council of 100, chairman of the board of the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation and prior chairman of the Florida Council of Economic Education. He is also active as a board member of the United Way of Pinellas County and was founding chairman of the organization's Alexis de Tocqueville Society.
His opinion matters on all things of importance in Pinellas County. Ask him what he thinks about the proposal for a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium, and he answers quickly that the team should stand by the one it has now.
“I happen to like the existing stadium,” he says. “I like the location, I like what it has done for the area.”
James adds that the previous proposal to build a new Rays stadium along the city's waterfront “was the worst idea I ever heard of, with the rain, the heat and the lightning we have.” He says he favors making improvements to Tropicana Field and believes the Rays should live up to their commitment to play there through 2027.
Speaking of stadiums, Raymond James is committed to paying at least $3 million annually through 2016 to keep its name on Tampa's publicly funded football stadium, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and University of South Florida Bulls play. James says the deal, which has been in place since the stadium's 1997 opening, has brought the company invaluable name recognition over the years but can be confusing at times.
“If you ask a cab driver at the airport to take you to Raymond James, they might take you to the stadium instead,” he says with a chuckle.
James watched with keen interest the effort to fund light rail in Tampa by way of a penny sales tax hike in Hillsborough County that failed in the Nov. 2 election. He says Pinellas County should consider its own local rail system, and an effort has already begun to come up with a regional plan linking commuter rail with the proposed high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando.
“It's hard to get people in a place like Florida to not take their cars,” James says. “But the use of light rail in the Tampa Bay region is a great idea and we need to do it. It's not as good as it would be in a highly concentrated population center, but I think it will work here. Those of us in business here are going to make sure it happens, otherwise it won't work as well.”
James' involvement in the financial services industry extends beyond the Tampa Bay area. He is the past chairman of the Financial Services Roundtable, the Securities Industry Association and the District 7 Business Conduct Committee of the National Association of Securities Dealers. He is also a past president of the Florida Security Dealers Association.
He currently serves on the board of dean's advisors at Harvard Business School, where he graduated with high distinction in 1966 and was a Baker Scholar. He also earned a juris doctor from Stetson College of Law and obtained his certified financial planner (CFP) designation in 1978.