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At 71, Tom James still pushing to elevate Tampa Bay's economy

Tom James, chairman of Raymond James, says he’s socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

Tom James, chairman of Raymond James, says he’s socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

To casual observers, Tom James will be remembered as the clever business executive who put his company's Raymond James name on the stadium of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and into the homes of millions of TV-watching football fans over the years.

To those who know more about James, now 71 and chairman of the regional investment firm that bears his family name, he will be best recalled as one of the region's lasting economic leaders, a philanthropist and patron of the arts.

He is a longtime collector of art of the American West that adorns the walls of his multitower corporate headquarters in St. Petersburg. And he is a regional advocate, never at a loss for ways to make the Tampa Bay area a better place.

After 40 years as Raymond James' chief executive officer, from 1970 to 2010, he's been blessed with both time and clout to help shape the area economy. I recently sat down with James, as I have done from time to time for many years, to catch up on his thinking. Here are excerpts on seven topics of importance to James, still active and overscheduled — just the way he's always liked it.

On the region's natural advantages: "We always start out with a great advantage on the weather front, with tourism as a big business, and even the immigration of retirees that many people have now written off. Well, it is picking up again."

On corporate philanthropy and headquarters: "We will spend more money supporting Tampa Bay, where a large percentage of our people live, than we do Oshkosh or Houston or Atlanta or even Memphis, which (thanks to Raymond James' recent purchase of the Morgan Keegan financial firm) is our second-largest market for employees. Everybody thinks that way in the corporate world."

On being a moderate Republican in extreme times: "Though I call myself socially liberal and a fiscal conservative, it is frustrating that there is no place for me in today's politics. I was a longtime Republican but supported Jack Kennedy in college. And I supported Alex Sink (a Democrat now running for former Congressman Bill Young's seat) for governor because she understands business. You have to be a good manager and leader in politics."

On the current race for Florida governor: "Everyone sort of demeans (Gov. Rick Scott), but he is committed about bringing companies into the state … Charlie Crist? To be frank, he did not do much as governor. I like him, but he might be better at running for some other office."

On who he would like to see as president: "Jeb Bush. Jeb works with members of both parties. I do not see much of that in government anymore."

On his generous philanthropic giving: "My wife argues with me to give more money to our kids. The kids have enough and will have to do it themselves."

His biggest fear: "That we do not get enough immigration of business into the area because we lack the cooperative effort to get it done."

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

At 71, Tom James still pushing to elevate Tampa Bay's economy 12/02/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 9:52am]
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