John Sullivan James left school after the eighth grade for the shipping industry in 1924. He worked for several companies before settling with Strachan Shipping – from which he eventually struck out on his own.
At that time, logistics was a one-stop shop: Shipping companies represented their own vessels, as well as handling customs brokerage and freight forwarding for cargo owners. But that led to a potential conflict of interest. In the event of damaged freight, the shipping line could end up representing its own interests and that of the cargo owner.
In the late 1930s, Strachan decided to divest itself of the freight forwarding and customs work – tasks James had been performing. The company set him up with an office and a typewriter and boxes of client files.
From that beginning, the John S. James Company was formed in 1941.
“His first official shipment at his own company was a cadaver to Brazil,” said Thomas James, son of John and now patriarch of the family company. “Someone had died in Florida, but they didn’t have service to Brazil down there, so they sent the body to Savannah by express train and it was shipped out from here.”
Over the past three-quarters of a century, the company has grown from one man and his typewriter to 122 employees and six offices across the Southeast.
“We maintain corresponding partnership agreements with a multitude of companies in the United States and around the globe, enabling us to handle shipments to and from all international ports,” said Len James, Chief Financial Officer and part of the third generation in the business. “We also have agents placed in the domestic offices of major manufacturing clients.”
Today, the company’s services cover not only ensuring regulatory compliance for imports and exports, but also third-party logistics duties such as booking space on vessels, trains and trucks.
“Additionally, we do foreign trade zone administration, combining inventory management and customs administration,” said Chief Operating Officer Jill James. “We file the weekly reports required to track the depletion of inventory and the production of finished products entering U.S. commerce.”
The company also does consulting work and auditing for other companies’ customs processes.
Handling over 50,000 import and export entries, representing more than 100,000 containers per year, the company serves several business sectors, including large chemical companies and automakers, among others. Len said, however, that the company is also attentive to small operators.
“We pride ourselves on being able to offer personalized service to our clients on a global scale,” Len said. “No matter if they are a Fortune 100 company or a small, individual importer or exporter.”
In May, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker presented the John S. James Co. with the President’s “E” Award for Exports at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The President’s “E” Award is the highest recognition any U.S. entity can receive for making a significant contribution to the expansion of U.S. exports.