When his younger son was four years old, one Saturday afternoon James found himself – for the first time in years – with several hours in which he was not working for his law firm or doing things with his young family. He picked up a book of his choosing. It was a history book.
James was born in 1960 in Sydney, Australia. His late elder sister, Petrina (known in the family as ‘Beans’) taught him to read before he went to school. He was sick with asthma and bronchitis for much of his childhood, and spent a lot of time reading – especially historical stories.
He liked to argue for his views, too. His father, Peter, had studied law after returning from service in World War II, and many of Peter’s and his mother Sue’s friends were attorneys. James decided early on that he wanted to be a barrister (a type of attorney who represents clients in Court).
His uncle Bill spent many hours restoring a rotting sailing dingy, in which James taught himself to sail while on the family’s annual beach vacations.
At school he did well in math and science subjects, but also in English and history (which is where his heart was). He was captain of his high school debating team, and acted in several plays. He also produced and directed a play, and assisted in the production of others. One of his actors only suffered mild rope-burn when the harness that James had made for a hanging scene slipped…
James won a scholarship to Oxford University straight after school. He was not as motivated in his studies there as he had been at school, and did not feel any connection to England. Margaret Thatcher’s Government put up fees for overseas students to a level which James could not afford. He left Oxford after four of the nine terms of his course in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.
James then studied for a liberal arts and a law degree at Sydney University. He made his first investments in the share market while at university, using money that he borrowed on a credit card.
After graduating, he worked at a law firm with some outstanding lawyers, who were passionate about excellence, about their clients, and about building the firm. He stayed at that firm for thirty years, becoming a partner, then head of Mergers and Acquisitions in Sydney, then co-head of Corporate, and a Board member for eight years. He loved being a solicitor (a type of attorney who rarely represents clients in Court), and never switched to becoming a barrister.
More importantly, he met Julie Claridge there. James was smitten, and they became engaged after James’s eighth proposal. They were married and then blessed with two wonderful sons.
Like many Australians, James and Julie love to travel. They resumed travelling when their younger son was three. Both boys were – mostly – fine with the twenty-four hour flights that Australians take.
James and Julie encouraged intellectual curiosity in their sons, and helped to teach them how to participate in fact-based discussions and debates. Family discussions have been wide ranging since the boys were young.
While at his first law firm, James was able to advise many local and offshore clients. He also helped the firm to grow its offshore business. He made a trip to Myanmar to test a recommendation that the firm should open an office there: he recommended that it should not. He advised the first company from the People’s Republic of China to list on the Australian Stock Exchange. He later made many business visits to the PRC.
For more than twenty years he has been a visiting lecturer at the law school of the University of Sydney (currently ranked 12th in the world), teaching two topics on equity capital markets law. He wrote a long chapter for a leading subscription publication, on public merger and acquisition law in Australia. He has convened and spoken on many panels, and at many seminars and conferences.
When he became head of Mergers and Acquisitions, to encourage some of his partners to take oral communication training, he took the training himself. He learnt a lot about the importance of preparation before every meeting and every presentation. His law firm was an innovator in teaching its lawyers to present complex advice concisely and with clarity.
He is a director of a leading Australian think tank, and Chair of two real estate investment trusts.
James and Julie have always lived on a pre-agreed amount, paid their taxes, made donations and used the rest of their income to invest. James sees investment as trying to apply knowledge about a range of topics to predict the future, and to pick future winners. At the end of the Great Recession, James and Julie sold their family home to take advantage of depressed investment asset values.
Late in his legal career, James moved to a global law firm where he became head of Corporate in Australia. There he sat in open plan, with a team of very capable and motivated young lawyers. He discovered that they did not know much about history or literature.
In 2018 James decided to embark on a new project – to write a book about an important historical topic, in the hope that he could help to spread knowledge about what made the world as it is. He resigned as a partner from his law firm, and began work on his new mission.