September 1, 2014
Tom James is a 'Florida Icon'

Photo: Mark Wemple

Florida Trend's 'Icon' Series

Tom James is a 'Florida Icon'

Chairman, Raymond James Financial, St. Petersburg; age 69

Art Levy | 10/8/2013

» 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%, 5%. 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.

Tags: Florida Icon, Banking & Finance

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