John James Sr. has overcome obstacles – and is now surpassing him
Elder John James said he decided to give the “majority portion of my total portfolio” to his children now rather than after his death to see them grow the business.
“I’m so much older than my kids… I’m just lucky to be here for so long,” James said. “So I’m not going to take a chance. I’m going to go ahead and do it now while I’m still half sane.
“And I can be there to help in any way, but they are doing a good job of growing the business themselves.”
John James Sr. has retained his real estate in Detroit through OJ Land Development Company LLC as well as Magnolia Automotive Services LLC, which performs sub-assembly, inventory management and parts sequencing for Toyota Tsusho America and other automakers. Japanese in Huntsville, Ala. and Tupelo, Miss.
Lorron James heads the Magnolia division under the umbrella of James Group International. RGL belongs to the James Group Inc ..
John James Sr.’s succession plan comes five decades after he barely embarked on freight transportation.
He has long since sold his fleet of trucks from OJ Transport after that company experienced a bankruptcy reorganization in 2000. In the mid-1990s, James began moving his business from trucks only to logistics, warehousing. and part sequencing. automobile industry.
But the construction of a logistics warehouse and headquarters in southwest Detroit in the late 1990s only came decades after those early years of struggling to overtake the ICC, a powerful regulator that James considered himself to be a guardian of competition in the trucking industry.
“The Interstate Commerce Commission was not, as I initially thought, an impartial government agency that looked at it and judged it to do what is right,” James said. “They were truly the advocates of the trucking industry.
During the first four years of its existence, OJ Transport had to apply for 90-day emergency permits to transport Schlitz beer and other products, James said.
Outlaw and James’ first truck was a used 1967 Ford diesel tractor with a trailer built by the old Fruehauf Trailer Co. in Detroit.
Outlaw was a diesel mechanic at Hertz Corp. leasing trucks and doing the mechanical maintenance of the truck, while James used his administrative skills to try to navigate the government bureaucracy that tightly regulated who could do business in the trucking industry.
James regularly met with aides to then-President Gerald Ford and members of the Michigan Congressional delegation, including the late US Senator Robert Griffin, to advocate for regulatory reform in the trucking industry.
The 90-day permits, which they had to renew several times, did not make it easier to get funding to grow the business in the early years, James said.
“The banks weren’t too friendly with the trucking companies back then,” James said. “And in Detroit, there weren’t a lot of black businesses, but for the few of us, the banks weren’t lending us money either.”
It took OJ Transport four years to get a hearing before a panel of three ICC judges. The hearing was held in Chicago instead of the hometown territory of OJ Transport customers.
Other trucking companies fought to keep OJ Transport from getting into the business, especially the lucrative job of hauling auto parts for the Big Three.
James and Outlaw prevailed in their hearing, but the decision was overturned on appeal, sparking a series of court battles.
It wasn’t until 1978 and the start of ICC deregulation under President Jimmy Carter that OJ Transport was granted the power to compete for trucking contracts with automakers and other companies, said. James.
In many ways, James said, 1978 was the year his fortunes changed for the better.
Outlaw and James bought the old Hertz truck rental terminal on Gratiot Avenue where Outlaw worked repairing freight trucks.
They used their contacts at Ford to purchase 23 used trucks and significantly expand their fleet, prompting James to quit his day job at Chrysler and devote himself full time to the trucking industry.
He also married Sharon, his wife of 43, that year.
“I quit my job, I got married, I bought my first house, I bought my first terminal, I bought my first fleet of trucks, all in 1978,” said James.
In deciding to leave Chrysler, James resigned within months of his tenth birthday with the company, when he was reportedly invested in the automaker’s retirement system.
He had tried to hit the 10-year mark to gain that edge later in life – just in case his fledgling freight forwarding business didn’t work – but he took the leap anyway.
Now, looking back, he’s glad he didn’t keep Chrysler’s paycheck.
“It was one of the best decisions I have ever made – a decision that puts me where I am now,” James said in the boardroom at James Group headquarters in Fort Street. “It’s just how you think because you don’t know what’s out there and you haven’t thought about it.”