Born in Durban, South Africa, from Scottish immigrant parents. He joined the South African Army in 1979, two weeks after his 18th birthday. This was a tumultuous time in South African history. As the country was on the front line in resisting communist expansion in Southern Africa. A less familiar piece of Cold War history!
Entering active service as a private, he mustered in the Ordinance Services Corps and reported to Natal Command Maintenance Unit in Durban. There, he trained as a storeman, working in weapons and ammunition, transportation, and general commodities. During the period 1980-1983. He was promoted to corporal and subsequently to sergeant. His logistics training was received in the Army’s Ordinance Services Corp School in Pretoria. Where he also qualified as a Logistics Instructor. Additional specialist training prepared him for detached roles in the army counter terrorism force, supporting police operations in political unrest areas. His skill as a marksman 1st class (7.62mm), served him well during operational tours of duty in the Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe border areas.
Keeping his roots in logistics, he returned to Natal Command Maintenance Unit in Durban, where he was appointed their Procurement Officer in 1984. Placed in charge of military procurements for the Natal province and tactical overseas procurements. He was successful in this role despite international trade sanctions imposed on South Africa at the time. During this tenure, he declined repeated requests from his commanding officer to take a commission. His contribution to this role was recognised in the form of a rare commendation from the Chief of Army Staff Finance. Further specialist training saw him qualify in logistic air supply, obtaining his ‘wings’ and also a scuba diver qualification in 1984.
In 1985 he was promoted to staff sergeant and seconded periodically, during periods of civil unrest, to the Joint Operations Committee (JOC), made up of local government officials, police, civil services and branches of the military. His management and distribution of flood relief aid to victims of Cyclone Domonia in 1984 earned him a commendation from the Officer Commanding Natal Command. He received the General Service Medal in 1986.
In 1986, he was appointed as Counter Intelligence Officer for Natal Command Maintenance Unit. During this period he trained in Intelligence Collection and Communication Operations (psyops) at the Army’s Military Intelligence College. This role extended beyond the unit boundaries to work closely with the regional command headquarters in tracking cross border insurgents and countering communist inspired subversion and propaganda. A highlight over this period was training Zulu game rangers in marksmanship to protect wildlife from illegal poaching along the Mozambique border. He also worked with special forces, training teams in VIP protection and counter intelligence tactics. He again turned down offers of a commission. In recognition of his contribution in this role, he received the prestigious Chief of the Army Commendation in January 1988.
In 1990, his career path took him back to logistics when he received orders to take up the role of Quartermaster in Group 10 Commando Headquarters. This commando unit controlled 5 COIN regiments and had seen their logistics command and control crumble after a sustained period of operation. The post was designated for captain or higher (S4), but did not deter him in turning the grave situation around. He held a key position in the Leader Group Team despite being the only NCO. This earned him the respect and appreciation of senior commanders, further commendations, and the Good Service Medal.
In 1993, he qualified as Sergeant Major, but chose to leave the army to pursue a civilian career in the United Kingdom with his family.
1994, in Scotland, he joined Brands Electronics as warehouse and distribution manager. Within 3 months, prompted by his results and the rapid growth in the company, he was promoted to Logistics Manager for Europe. In this role he built and managed logistics capability and contributed in developing hitherto unknown processes and procedure for inventory management and operations.
He returned to South Africa with his family in 1995. Whereupon he joined Technicare (Pty) Ltd. as Regional Manager for Kwazulu Natal, a nationwide company delivering IT support services to corporate clients and warranty support to major OEMs e.g. IBM, HP, Sun Microsystems.
In 1998, he was approached by Sun Microsystems (South Africa) to join the company as Country Operations Manager. Over the 4 years with Sun (South Africa), he advanced to Business Development Manager (Southern Africa), then to Field Operations Manager (Middle East and Africa). During this period he rebuilt the supply chain in Southern Africa, then, established Sun’s first technical training school, developing courses and instructors to train field engineers from emerging markets in Middle East & across Africa. His tenure in South Africa culminated in successfully launching and leading a project to obtain ISO 9000:2001 accreditation for the post-sales service and support infrastructure in the region.
In 2001, Sun management offered him promotion opportunities in UAE, Greece or Scotland. He chose Scotland, being his ancestral home. On arrival he was tasked with creating a European focussed test laboratory. This facility was aimed at providing customers an IT infrastructure to test complex IT solutions. Thereby de-risking their own mission-critical IT environments. At this time, Sun was aggressively marketing storage and server technologies. With a very limited budget, and one engineer on loan, he launched the EMEA Storage Centre in Linlithgow, Scotland in 2002. It became a rapid success! One year later he was given control of the Storage Centres in USA and Singapore with the charter to consolidate into one Global Storage Center. This done, he used his Six Sigma training and focussed his energy to build the largest heterogeneous test center of it’s kind in the world (at that time). A number of computing world records and innovative designs were created and tested in the Global Storage Center. Starting with a single rack of equipment, he grew the laboratory to a mammoth 40,000 sq ft in 5 years. The success of the Global Storage Center led him to expand the capability of the Executive Customer Briefing facility on the same campus. In 2006, during a management reshuffle, he was promoted to Senior Manager International Business Development. This allowed him to retain management control of the Storage Center and customer briefing facilities, but broadened his responsibilities to include international trade shows and seminars. In 2007, during a further management reshuffle, he and his Global Storage Center were integrated into the newly forming Sun Solution Centers, headquartered in Palo Alto, CA. Sun Microsystems Inc. was taken over by Oracle Corp. in 2008. Despite the success of past years, the pre-takeover agreement led to worldwide downsizing. Ultimately costing him and 2,000 others employees their jobs.
In 2008, he joined a start-up software company as a director and Chief Operating Officer. This company, G10ip Ltd., had spent much of their engineering development phase in Sun’s Global Storage Center. His drive and vision led to the development of an emerging CCTV technology, unique to the market at that time. Primarily recording IP CCTV images. His input drove the developers to create an entirely new Java based application on a Solaris platform. This application was infinitely scalable to record any number of CCTV cameras simultaneously and store the images on scalable clustered storage that could receive data in a secure IP stream from any location in the world. Further development evolved the platform into a military grade remote control capability that monitored sensors, cameras and could manipulate remote controls to turn a light on/off, open a door across the world, or even remotely fire a weapon. Interest from NASA and other large companies led to a hurried search for venture capitalists. Unable to find the right backing and pressed for time, it was ultimately agreed to sell the company. He resigned as Director and COO in 2010.
In 2011 he took his wife to South Africa with a view to settling there. Later that year, he joined Downrange Operations and Training as a military instructor for a US State Department contract in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Drawing on past experience, he developed his roles and responsibilities and was appointed to the position of Logistics Manager for the project midway through the first year. Downrange successfully wrapped up the engagement in the Congo and repositioned him within the company.
His education and training is as wide-ranging as his experience. During his military career, realising he would require transferable skills in the future, he joined Newport University as a distance learning student in 1991. During this year he obtained a graduate Diploma in Business Management (DipBusMan). In 1992 he obtained a graduate Diploma in Management Development (DipManDev). After leaving the army in 1993, he continued his education through Newport University, obtaining graduate Diplomas in Financial Management “Cum Laude” (DipFinMan) in 1997, Advanced Logistics and Operations Management (AdvDipLOM) in 1999 and Marketing Management “Cum Laude” (DipMktMan) in 2001.
His vocational training includes: IRCA Certified Lead Auditor for ISO 9001:2015, Prince2 Project Manager (APM Group), Six Sigma Green Belt (SunU), Analytical Trouble Shooting – ATS (Kepner-Tregoe), Advanced Communication Skills (The Talking Trade), Loss Control (NOSA), Industrial Fire Prevention and Protection (NOSA), Supervisors Safety Training Course (NOSA), Directing Safely (IOSH), Pest Control (Cieba-Geigy).
He pursues recreational studies in his spare time. Receiving qualifications as a Certified Hypnotherapist with the I.A.C.T., Advanced Homebrewing from Fort Lewis College & Siebel Institute and Open Water Diver from NAUI. He is also experienced in graphic design, web development, e-learning and business management systems.
James is a keen motorcyclist and kayak fisherman. He also follows his ancestral roots in wine making, brewing and distilling.
James Steele is currently Downrange Operations and Training's Director of IT Development and the company's Quality Manager. He is based in Glasgow.