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John James: Legacy of Tireless Commitment to Detroit Community and Business

By Daniel A. Washington

john-james-headshotWith more than 35 years of transportation, logistics and supply chain management experience behind him – former Detroit Regional Chamber board member John James is a man of deep faith and uncanny business acumen.

“To be honest, it just so happened to work itself out,” said James, chairman and CEO of James Group International, while reflecting on his career. “I had no dream or vision to have a logistics and supply chain management company, it was just the Man above looking out for me.”

While building a headquarters on the border of Southwest Detroit in 1998, the Vietnam veteran seized the opportunity to help re-establish business in the cultural community. He purchased a number of brownfield parcels from the city of Detroit with a plan to build a site he could further expand his once meager-sized trucking company.

Years after completion, James’ nearly 20-acre property became the new home to four companies: Renaissance Global Logistics, TLX, MotorCity Intermodal Distribution, and Magnolia Automotive Services.

“I remember a time where there was nothing here, the land was toxic and there was really nothing to look at,” James said. “Then all of a sudden you saw a vibrant community form and small restaurants and others came in and opened up shop.”

On a mission to work for one of the Big Three automakers in 1966, James soon fell in love with Detroit and the region after spending years in the U.S. Army and time in Toledo, Ohio.

“I quickly found Detroit likeable, but as an outsider, I also noticed some peculiar things that took place in this city,” James said. “… After a certain time of day you could not see or find a soul walking in downtown Detroit.”

Hoping to change the fortune of those around him, James invested greatly into training and providing jobs to the underprivileged members of his community. Due to his passion, along with a group of African-American businessmen came the birth of the National Association of Black Auto Suppliers in 1987.

The widely recognized organization has gone on to award more than $1 million in scholarship funding to college-bound African-American students.

“I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish,” said James. “Prior to me and a few other guys, there were not any African-Americans owning or running an industrial company. Don’t get me wrong, we have always had business owners in our community but never in some industries.”

Now with both of his sons, Lorron and John, taking the reins and leading the company – the elder James sees his legacy continuing long after his retirement. The grandfather of four takes pride knowing that both worked hard to learn and master the family business without his plea or convincing.

“It really is a wonderful thing to witness, as both of my sons were led to come back home to learn and lead the family business,” said James. “This allows a second generation of business leaders to continue the legacy.”

Daniel A. Washington is a marketing and communications coordinator at the Detroit Regional Chamber.


More from Daniel A. Washington:

Champions of the Neighborhood

 

Spotlighting Race in America