How Charles H. James III turned a family business worth $4m into $140m in less than 20 years

Stephen Nartey April 27, 2023
Charles' business model was to pursue aggressive growth, and was of the view that there was no room to disappoint his fore-bearers, who broke their backs to lay the foundations of the business. Photo credit: West Virginia University

Charles H. James III made news headlines when he was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of the oldest black-owned business in the United States. The business was established in 1883 by his great-grandfather, Charles H. James, who started from a humble beginning of peddling wares to mule-driven goods, and finally, doing business in a warehouse. Over the years, it became a generational entity that James III hoped to steer into a greater path of success than when it was earlier managed. 

His business model was to pursue aggressive growth, and was of the view that there was no room to disappoint his fore-bearers, who broke their backs to lay the foundations of the business. Though the company’s selling niche was local food distribution, it always set its sight on being an international brand, which he was able to achieve.

James III can boast of knowing the company well in its over 120 years of existence. Born in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1950, he was trained on the job as he assisted with making phone calls and driving trucks with his father. Perhaps, aspirations of working for the family business informed his decision to study history and business at Morehouse College, Atlanta. His educational trajectory was designed to help him to easily take over the business, however, he was given a job in the banking sector when he completed his master’s degree in 1985. 

Though working at Chase and Citicorp was considered prestigious, he believed his place was in helping build the family business. He later took over the company at a time when the company’s revenue had stagnated – sales had stagnated at $4 million dollars as a result of competition from other businesses in that space. He soon made proposals that enabled the business to access government contracts. When he joined the company in the late 80s, he helped his father, who was the CEO, to re-position the company to win enough government contracts and make it competitive nationally. 

When he took over the company at the age of 29, he was able to help increase the entity’s sales to 38 percent in 1992, representing $18 million per year. As the company diversified and made huge financial investments, by 1999, its sales exceeded $31 million, and joined the internet boom to rake in a turnover of $16 million annually. As CEO, James took the company to $140 million in revenues in 2003, but again, he chose to sell his interests in the company. 

As the third-generation leader of the company, Charles H. James III has continued the legacy of his family’s business, while driving innovation and growth. Under his leadership, the company has achieved remarkable success, expanding its operations and establishing a reputation as a leader in the food distribution industry.

One of his key achievements has been his ability to navigate a constantly changing business landscape. He has successfully adapted the company’s operations to meet the evolving needs of the market, leveraging technology and strategic partnerships to drive efficiency and competitiveness. His forward-thinking approach has helped the company stay ahead of the curve in a competitive industry, and it has earned him recognition as a thought leader and influencer in the business community.

James III’s commitment to excellence and customer satisfaction has been a driving force behind the company’s success. He has fostered a culture of exceptional service and quality, and the company’s reputation for reliability and professionalism has earned it a loyal customer base. His dedication to maintaining the highest standards has resulted in long-term relationships with clients, and the company’s consistent revenue growth is a testament to his strategic leadership.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 27, 2023


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