An interview with Tom James of Raymond James Financial

“With building coming back — which was the thing that just killed us because we’re so real estate dependent — we’re in pretty good shape now,” says Tom James, 71, chairman, Raymond James Financial, St. Petersburg. “I’m actually pretty bullish about Florida doing better financially.”

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times (2009)

“With building coming back — which was the thing that just killed us because we’re so real estate dependent — we’re in pretty good shape now,” says Tom James, 71, chairman, Raymond James Financial, St. Petersburg. “I’m actually pretty bullish about Florida doing better financially.”

> Back in '74, when times were really tough and it looked like we were going broke, I had a written plan for how to shut the business down over a three-month period. Boy, we were close.

> How do I relax? Well, the answer is I don't. I'm an activities-driven person. I fill up time. If I go on vacation, I have a schedule for every minute almost.

> I started playing in a rock band when I was in high school. I went and saw Elvis Presley when he came to St. Petersburg in the 1950s and got really taken with the music. I got a guitar and taught myself how to play.

> My father was one of the world's nice people. He was a really good person, a moral person of high integrity. He's the person who influenced me more than anyone else.

> I was vice president of the Harvard Young Republicans when I voted for John Kennedy. By the way, in today's world, I'm not sure that Kennedy wouldn't have been a Republican.

> My wife raised our kids when they were young. If she wasn't there, I couldn't have done what I did.

> I could write music when I was younger, but I never really worked hard at that, which is too bad, because I'm not sure I can do it anymore. You've got to have all these emotive juices flowing to write songs. It's good when you're young and thinking about women all the time.

> My art education has been in the real world, looking at a lot of art, talking to artists. The more I talked to artists about how they did it, what their modalities were, I just developed more and more taste for what I liked.

> It seems to me that most politicians are only interested in getting re-elected. That's like No. 1 on the list, and it's also No. 1 through 9. I don't mean they're dishonest or not competent to do things, but they don't.

> I go to movies once every week or two because when I go to movies, I just totally lose myself in the movie. It doesn't really matter what it is. I don't think about business problems. But that's the only time.

> I'm not afraid to make decisions.

> Well, I'm a failure at retirement. I turned over my CEO job three years ago, and I actually have a couple of major tasks to do that I haven't even started. I work just as hard, but on less important things.

> I learned very quickly from my father that helping people achieve financial goals was a worthwhile thing, and I also learned from him that the people you associate with are very important.

> You want to save religiously. It's most important that you develop the habit of putting aside so much money a year out of what you earn. People say 10 percent, 5 percent. You start with what you can do. It's all about discipline.

> I'm paranoid that we would do anything to put the firm at risk. I do everything I can to eliminate what I call branches on the decision tree that have an end point of death.

> With building coming back — which was the thing that just killed us because we're so real estate dependent — we're in pretty good shape now. I'm actually pretty bullish about Florida doing better financially.

> In college, my band was the Maniacs. We did Chuck Berry, Little Richard, a lot of what we would call real southern rock.

> Giving back is a philosophy. I believe that it's consistent with your obligations and your economic best interest to create an environment that is better. I don't think that thinking about shareholders and maximizing profits is inconsistent with pledging part of your profits to charity.

> I was an early member of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), but the minute they had riots in California, I said, "No way. That's not the way you get equal rights for people."

> We have not made this a very business-friendly state contrasted to other states. We can do a lot better job. Gov. Scott, he may not be a great communicator, but basically he has done some right things and has had some right objectives.

> There are tradeoffs you make in life. I didn't take a lot of weekends off, so my kids didn't see me. Remember, I was going to law school at the same time I was starting off in business. So, for 10 years essentially I worked 80 or 100 hours a week.

> We still haven't made the educational infrastructure in Florida as high quality as it is in a number of other states. That's inexcusable.

> I wish Jeb Bush had been elected president instead of W, who I like, but he didn't have the skill set to do the job like his little brother.

This interview originally appeared in Florida Trend magazine. To read other Florida Trend stories and interviews, go to floridatrend.com.

An interview with Tom James of Raymond James Financial 10/18/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 18, 2013 6:02pm]

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