James studied law at the University of Bristol and qualified as a solicitor in London with Clifford Chance before becoming a fund manager in Edinburgh and then Hong Kong.

He co-founded Arisaig Partners, an emerging markets focused investment management firm headquartered in Singapore, gifting his ownership to the Perivoli Trust.

He is now a Trustee of the Perivoli Foundation and the Perivoli Africa Research Centre at the University of Bristol.