Bell was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, California, the youngest of four children. Bell's mother Mamie was a former Los Angeles County government clerk. His father Clyde died in 2003.
Bell graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School, where he was elected student body president during his senior year. In 1971, he earned his bachelor's degree in accounting from California State University, Los Angeles. A partial scholarship helped pay for Bell's first year of college, but he had to earn enough to pay his way through the remainder of school.
In 1972, Bell joined the Rockwell company as an accountant. At that company he followed a path into management, from corporate senior internal auditor to accounting manager and finally as manager of general and cost accounting. He joined Boeing in 1996 when Rockwell's aerospace and defense units were acquired.
At the Boeing Company, Bell was vice president of contracts and pricing for the company's Space and Communications Division. He later became senior vice president of finance and corporate controller. In November 2003, he became the acting chief financial officer, following the firing of Michael M. Sears due to a government contract scandal. He was formally elected executive vice president and CFO by Boeing's board of directors in January 2004. He became the interim president and chief executive officer of Boeing in March 2005, following the resignation of Harry Stonecipher. He returned to his singular role as CFO on June 30, 2005, following the appointment of Jim McNerney as the new president, chairman, and chief executive officer of Boeing. Bell was appointed corporate president in June 2008. On February 1, 2012, Bell announced his retirement as Boeing's executive vice president and chief financial officer, effective April 1, 2012; he was succeeded by Greg Smith.
|Rockwell International||1972 – 1996||Accountant|
|Corporate senior internal auditor|
|Manager of general and cost accounting|
|The Boeing Company||1996 – 2000||VP of contracts and pricing; space and communications|
|2000 – 2003||Senior VP of finance and corporate controller|
|2003 – 2004||Acting chief financial officer|
|2004 – 2005||Executive VP and chief financial officer|
|2005 – 2005||Chief financial officer; interim president and CEO|
|2005 – 2008||Chief financial officer|
|2008 – 2011||Chief financial officer and corporate president|
Bell is a member of the board of directors of JPMorgan Chase, Dow Chemical Company, CDW, the Chicago Urban League, World Business Chicago, the Chicago Economic Club, and New Leaders for New Schools. He was elected to Apple's board of directors on October 1, 2015.
- James A. Bell, The History Makers. 2019-10-31.
- James A. Bell executive biography. The Boeing Co. (2008-04-01). Archived from the original on 2008-05-29. Retrieved on 2008-06-12.
- Alumni. Cal State LA. Retrieved on Nov 29, 2016.
- Boeing CFO James Bell Announces April 2012 Retirement. Boeing (2012-02-01). Retrieved on 2016-11-29.
- James Bell Joins Apple’s Board of Directors. Apple Inc. (October 1, 2015).
- Past Alumni Awards Gala Recipients. Cal State LA. Archived from the original on 2015-10-16.
- James A. Bell '97. Cal State LA. Archived from the original on 2016-11-30.