After finishing law school at New York University, James Tufenkian took a sharp turn off the usual career path. A 1986 trip to Nepal revealed his calling when he met Tsetan Gyurman, a master weaver who had been exiled from his homeland of Tibet. Tsetan had his own atelier that produced some of the finest carpets in Nepal, and longed to produce his rugs on a larger scale. James believed a great opportunity lay in bringing the traditional rug business into the 21st century. He and Tsetan formed a partnership, and friendship, based on a shared commitment to growing a business, and making it a vehicle for advancing social justice in the places where they worked.
In the early 1990s, James visited his ancestral homeland of Armenia and was deeply moved by the devastation and depression he found there following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In response, he set to work reviving the ancient craft of carpet weaving nearly lost during Soviet rule, training and putting to work nearly 1000 otherwise unemployed people -- mainly women. A few years later he became convinced that one of the greatest needs fo the country was to develop a tourism infrastructure and set about creating Tufenkian Heritage Hotels, a chain of luxury boutique hotels in scenic villages throughout Armenia's neglected but historic countryside. Concerned at the plight of farmers unable to sell their spectacular fruits, he co-founded Harvest Song Preserves to stimulate demand and raise produce prices, while adding another premium product to the Tufenkian family of companies.
Alongside his business ventures, James established the Tufenkian Foundation in 1999 to promote economic and social development, environmental protection and awareness, and many other charitable and strategic endeavors. He has personally donated one million dollars annually to the Foundation, alongside an additional $300,000 which is renvested every year into maintaining worker welfare facilities in Nepal. He has lectured widely on the subjects of entrepreneurship and applying social responsibility to business. James currently lives in Manhattan and remains active in all aspects of the Foundation and the Tufenkian Group of companies.