James Thomas

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James Thomas
Director, Corporate Diversity Affairs
Nordstrom
Seattle, Wash.
Age: 38

A clear example of self-motivation, James Thomas had high expectations of himself soon after graduating from Baltimore’s Northern High School. He joined the National Guard to help pay for his college tuition and accelerate the process of living on his own. Growing up in a one-parent home, he used the absence of a father figure as motivation. “I didn’t want to be a circumstance of what society typically says, that African-American males end up either incarcerated, not educated or not successful,” he says.

Thomas set his eyes on dentistry. “Nordstrom was never really supposed to be my ‘for real’ job. When I originally started school, I wanted to be a dentist. All these years later, I still work at the mall.” He eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix and a diversity management certificate form Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. That first job at the mall, busing tables at one of Nordstrom’s restaurants, led to an 18-year career — from cashiering, to customer support, to various managerial positions, before a former manager encouraged him to join the diversity division, where he now thrives as corporate diversity affairs director. “If I can help break stereotypes … for me that’s success. I hope in this role, I can create a pathway so everybody has an opportunity to experience the same type of success that I’ve been so fortunate to have.”

Thomas sees life from ‘the glass is half full’ perspective. “I believe that I am in control of my life. While there are things that I cannot control, there are a lot of things I can,” he says. A financial supporter of Seattle Goodwill and a frequent participant in community events through his role at Nordstrom, he enjoys outdoor activities, including tennis and riding around Seattle on his new motorcycle.