On leaving school, James worked in various operations and sales roles with Ansett Airlines, Qantas, VIP Airfreight and Ansett Pioneer. In 1984, he joined Hertz Australia and Asia-Pacific as National Marketing Manager subsequently becoming Director of Marketing and Sales and Reservations. He was appointed Vice President, Marketing and Sales for Europe, Middle East and Africa in 1995, based in London. After a distinguished career with Hertz International spanning 13 years, he joined BMI British Midland in 1997 and following a brief stint with Forte Hotels Limited in 1998, he rejoined BMI British Midland as their Chief Operating Officer in 1999. In 2002 he moved to the Kingdom of Bahrain serving as President and CEO of Gulf Air and in 2006 was appointed Chief Executive of Etihad Airways. In 2017 James was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished services to the aviation transport industry, to the development of tourism and trade linkages between Australia and the Gulf states, and to international airline associations. He resigned from Etihad Airways in June 2017.