Among his many current titles, Winston is chairman and director of the LPMC private investment company and president of Citadel Life & Health Insurance Co.
Among his high-profile developments are his involvement with The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island and the Summer Beach Resort and the Golf Club of Amelia
Winston, 80, serves on the board of Patriot Transportation and is a board veteran of many public companies and nonprofits, including serving as the past president of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and past chairman of the WJCT board of trustees.
He also was president of the JAX Chamber in 1983.
You’re a business graduate and a fervent supporter of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and your family’s association with the university dates to the mid-1800s. Your grandfather was one of the first students to enroll there after it reopened during Civil War reconstruction. What brought you to Jacksonville?
I had a lady friend in college and after college, I was in the Navy and believe it or not, the Navy stationed me here, so I’ve loved it from the beginning and I’m so glad to still be here.
What was your first job in Jacksonville?
We advertised, back then, cash for your equity. We would go out and interview the owner and then we would buy it and fix it up and resell it. So, that was my first job.
It was very interesting, lots of different kinds of people.
You’ve always been involved in real estate?
That and finance, yes.
Many of today’s real estate leaders in Jacksonville remember your creation of the Barnett Winston Co. and that was after your days at the legendary Charter Company. People say you assembled a young dynamic team of real estate professionals who went on to make names for themselves in the industry. Can you reflect on those days?
Very interesting and you’re right, we spent a lot of time picking out the young men and ladies that we wanted and I’m very proud to say that they are here in the city and other places and most of them are doing quite well.
What traits did you look for in assembling your team?
A lot of people don’t agree with this, but I always felt that you needed any kind of instrument or any kind of information that could help select the kind of people that you want, so everyone that we had in the beginning went through a psychological test, which took most of the day.
There was a chap named Dr. Melvin Reid, back in those days, who was a wonderful psychologist and we never found him to be wrong. He always told me, ‘look, if you can hire somebody for that position, go ahead, but if I tell you no, you do it at your own risk.’
Beyond that, we wanted men and ladies who made a good impression, who were able to speak, who had a college education and that was about what we felt was needed to give us the kind of chap or lady that we wanted.
Do you keep in touch with a lot of your protégés?
It’s been 30 years ago. We’re all in different spots and all over the world.
When I’ve talked to some of them, you’re described as smart, compassionate, decisive and level-headed. You’ve been in real estate and related industries for at least the duration of eight recessions. How did businesses and your company survive those recessions?
With a lot of luck in a lot of ways. What I learned early on was, if you’re going to get in the real estate business, you’ve got to have a platform that will allow you to survive in one of the recessions because like it or not, they’re always going to come. So many young people back in those days had entrepreneurial hopes and they had good thoughts, but when the recession came, they had no staying power and they were gone. They had good ideas, but just never could make it through the recession.
There’s a lesson to be learned there, isn’t it?
I think statistics show that so many people in business don’t make it through the recession and they lose and can’t recover.
Who was your mentor?
I was very fortunate to have a lot. Walter McRae, Prime Osborn, John Buchanan, Doug McGeorge, so I’ve had the blessing of a lot of mentors.
You have named a lot of the legendary business leaders of the city and you are considered a legendary business leader as well.
That must mean I’m getting old.
Well, no. It does mean, though, that you have a lot of influence in the area. Now, you were chairman of the JAX Chamber in 1983. What was going on in the city then? What were some of the accomplishments under your leadership with your team?
Back then the city was a very different city because the main thing I look back on was we had a lot of what I like to call ‘trigger pullers.’ We had a lot of businesses that people ran and a lot of people that wanted to do something, and they were able to make it happen. That’s what we were able to do back then.
One of the things that I think has been decent for this community now, we always are a part of a region, we’ve accepted that, so we set about trying to find a name that would identify the region and we were fortunate enough to have a regional chamber again.
We went to each one of the chambers and said ‘would you like to become a part of our region?’ All of us said yes. We interviewed advertising (firms) and picked what we thought was the right company and then they came out with Florida’s First Coast.
That name really caught on and it really defined the area in a lot of circumstances.
Well, we are first. We like to be first in business and the word ‘first,’ of course, is pretty powerful when you put it that way. Before this, we’ve had all kind of names. This stuck and I think it will always be that way.
What year did you move to Jacksonville?
In 1958, when Elvis discharged from his duties in the Navy.
What are some of the major changes that you’ve seen since then?
A city needs the leaders that can make things happen. Make no mistake, this city has grown big time and if you don’t believe it, try getting to the beach in any kind of rush hour. But, happening across the United States, cities are losing their headquarter companies and that hurts.
But it’s a wonderful city and I think we’ve done so many great things.
What would you like to see happen in the city now?
The city needs a Downtown. It needs a place that you say ‘that’s Jacksonville.’ We’ve had a lot of so-called plans, but unfortunately, unlike Portland, Oregon, where they have a plan they’ve been working on for the past 30 years, and you go downtown and you see it, here we’ve had all these so-called committees and never had any taxing authority. They could do a lot of planning, but when it came down to it, they had no power to get what they want done.
I think that would be one of our major components that we are hopefully working to make happen, but if we don’t, I feel that the city spreads out more and more so we lose real communication.
You’ve spent a lot of time in private industries, so you’ve been able to drive some of the successes that you’ve wanted to see. What are some of the successes of which you are most proud?
I have two areas when I think of success, and one of them is working in this community. I always felt when I first came into the city, it was a decent size back then, but it was small enough to where you could make a difference.
I have two types of things that I’ve worked on. One of them is financial, because you have to have money to be able to function.
Then there are those that I call psychic income. It’s when you do something with no expected reward and it becomes a part of you and nobody can take it away. I really think it’s one of the greatest gifts God gave us, to give back.
You’ve done a lot of giving back. You’ve been involved in a lot of efforts and a lot of causes. How do you choose?
I have to get in something that I can be a part of.
This (WJCT) has been a great experience for me because when I started I didn’t know a thing about what it was, and this city is so fortunate to have Michael Boylan as the head of this place. The station had made attempts to do things that didn’t work out, so Michael had worked at it and we restored it.
The other one that probably sticks out is The Ritz-Carlton. We started on that a long time ago in 1983. With the regulations you have to go through, lots of channels to get things done, it took us about two years, but we bought a mile and a half on the ocean and we had about 500 acres of virgin beach, so we set about making it happen and in a few years, we did it.
The Ritz-Carlton came about and most people said there’s no way, and I would just grin and say ‘you watch.’ We did make it happen.
We had to get the driving off the beach and that was the hardest part because the Ritz was in no way, shape or form ready to come in if we had people driving on our beach. We did it, we got the facility and I think it’s been a good asset to this whole area.
You also are a very strong supporter of the YMCA. How did it come about that you are a supporter of the Y? The Riverside redeveloped Y will have your name.
I’ve always been an exerciser. In that process, I got to be great buddies with Bob Dye who was the director at that time. When he retired, Trigg Wilkes took over, and he was a great upbeat kind of guy. From that time, we got multiple branches.
It’s a great symbol for the Y. We’ve always had a lack of a real profile because nobody knew where it was and we needed that.
That will be a centerpiece along Riverside Avenue. Your offices are on the other side of Riverside by the Fuller Warren Bridge, so you’ve been able to watch the redevelopment of Riverside Avenue and the Brooklyn area. Does it surprise you?
That is one of the most valuable pieces of land that we’ve had in the city and it’s been a long, long time coming. It just sat there and I blamed myself at the time because we were in the development business, but it’s close to downtown, it has McCoy’s Creek running through it, which is wider than the rivers they have in San Antonio.
It’s close to nice residential areas in Riverside and Avondale, so I’m just thrilled, I really am, and I give credit to Hallmark Partners for it, coming out with apartments and they have glorious visions for that.
It’s long overdue. I love to see it happen.
I read a profile that said you make a list of everything you need to do and you calculate how to make it fit within your schedule. Do you still do that?
I do. It’s the only way that I can function as efficiently as I want to and it’s not a big deal. You just get a yellow pad and write down everything you want to do in the coming week and see if that works.
We have an agenda and I put times beside each number, so in the end, we’ve occupied all that we say we’re going to do.
You run an efficient meeting, I take it.
My friends say too efficient.
Tell me about growing up. What was your family like? What did you want to be when you were young?
I grew up in Raleigh, N.C. My father was a lawyer and when he retired, he moved us. Daddy’s always loved real estate and we had a decent-size farm. My father had no hesitation to putting my brother and me out into the fields and we had lots of cows and my brother and I always said he loved those cows more than us because he sent us out in rain and snow.
That was my beginning. My family’s been decent and I made sure I didn’t embarrass them and figured I’d do something to make things a little better.
You and your late wife, Mary, raised your family in Jacksonville. Talk about your family.
I have a boy and a girl. One lives in Colorado and one lives in Miami. We have three grandchildren. Colorado is a long way, but we all come here. Christmas is wonderful.
My son is a doctor in psychology and he tells me what to do, whether I want to hear him or not.
It’s been great for us.
What else would you like to share?
I just thoroughly enjoyed being in this city and feeling like we had a place and did some things. I just think it’s a neat place to be.
About First Coast Success:
The Daily Record interviewed Jim Winston for “First Coast Success,” a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect program, hosted by Melissa Ross.
The interview is scheduled for broadcast this morning and will replay at 8 p.m. on the WJCT Arts Channel or online at wjctondemand.org.
James Horner Winston is a Jacksonville civic and business leader who serves as the heart of companies and causes, including the Winston Family YMCA under development in Riverside.