James Heaton Founder & Lead Strategist

Born the last son of a radical preacher man on a bluff overlooking the Illinois River in the small town of Ottawa, James Heaton grew up on the Space Coast of Florida. He left the U.S. at 19 for an 8-year odyssey in Asia, where, among other things, he traversed Tibet culminating in a near-death experience in the north (the story here), became a Theravadan Buddhist monk in Thailand, studied classical calligraphy under Yamauchi Kan in Kyoto, gained fluency in Japanese, studying fine art and East Asian History at Eckerd College, and late Hean Buddhist sculpture at Kyoto University Graduate School of Letters.

His first paying job was as a writer for Rasen-sha, the boutique Kyoto-based advertising agency run by the avant-garde thinker Takeda Yoshifumi. He contributed essays in Japanese and photographs to projects published in Esquire Japan, Seven Seas Magazine, 03 Tokyo Calling, and the Kyoto Journal, where he was a contributing editor for many years.

Visiting friends in New York in 1991, he entered the studio of the artists, architects, and philosophers Arakawa and Madeline Gins, where he worked on Helen Keller or Arakawa (Burning Books, 1994), Ubiquitous Site – Nagi’s Ryoanji at the Nagi Museum of Contemporary Art, Site of Reversible Destiny – Yoro Park, Gifu, Japan, and the Guggenheim Museum retrospective exhibition.

In 1996, he founded and published the art magazine The Exhibitionist, which was distributed nationally, but it had to be shut down after a year because too much effort had gone into the product and not enough into marketing. This failure of marketing vision resulted in James shifting his career into marketing, where he has remained ever since. From 1997 to 2006, the company acted as a brand design subcontractor to New York advertising agencies, doing work for Digitas, Euro, Ogilvey, Saatchi & Saatchi, and many others. At the end of 2006, he took on a partner and brought the company direct to client as a boutique branding and advertising agency.

James Heaton and Tronvig

Initially successful, this partnership blew up in the financial crisis of 2008. This forced James to reassess what is important. Tronvig emerged from this experience as a mission-driven business. We are only on earth for a short while so what we do needs to matter.

We are only on earth for a short while so what we do needs to matter.

The last sixteen years have been focused on perfecting a set of effective strategic tools including Socratic Creative, so that Tronvig is able to consistently deliver value to our client partners.

Tronvig strongly asserts that organizational brands must be tied to organizational strategy and these must both be rooted in the most deeply held convictions of an organization: its Core Values. A brand must effectively resonate with the customer it seeks to serve but also equally with all the stakeholders inside the organization because it is their responsibility to deliver on promises made. The brand, therefore, must operate 360.

Working with museums, libraries, nonprofits, non-pharma healthcare and mission-driven business organizations ranging from 10 to 20,000 employees, he has had ample opportunity to test Tronvig’s process in an array of real-life situations. Please read how those we work with describe the experience.

Dividing his time between Brooklyn, Honolulu, a remote cottage in Northwestern Ontario, James remains passionate about learning. He takes great pleasure in applying his roving curiosity, bracing honesty, sharp-minded analysis, to the challenges of his clients.

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