James studied economics for his first degree, and business for his second. He has followed a financial theme in his career, working initially overseas, and then in local government in Coventry. From the late 1980's he worked in finance in universities, becoming Finance Director of first Warwick then Leicester Universities. In both cases he dealt closely with the Student Unions.
When James retired in 2011, he took up a number of trusteeships and directorships, mainly connected with higher education and research. The Trusteeship of Leicester University SU is one of three SU trusteeships he holds, reflecting his great enjoyment of working with students to help maximise their university experiences.