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Small Business Leader: Josh Levinson, Charm City Run

Josh Levinson is president and owner of Charm City Run.
Josh Levinson is president and owner of Charm City Run. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

As a teenager in North Baltimore, Josh Levinson learned to love running while running the mile to Belvedere Square with his mom for dinners.

While he played lacrosse at the Gilman School and later at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, he kept up with his running. Even in Austin, Texas, where he studied for a master’s degree in business administration and worked his first jobs, he and his wife, Kara, liked to run together around Austin’s Town Lake.

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It was there they fell in with a community of fellow runners out of Run-Tex, a local shop.

In 2001, while visiting Baltimore and running on the NCR Trail, Kara told Josh: “Baltimore needs a Run-Tex.”

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He laughed; she didn’t. The next year they founded Charm City Run, starting with a single shop in Timonium.

“Our goals were simple, create a place where we would want to hang out and create a workplace where we would want to work,” they wrote on the website of the retailer, which has now grown to seven stores and about 70 employees.

Those employees praised Josh in comments shared with The Baltimore Sun.

“He believes passionately in the company and its mission,” one said. Another lauded “his ability to connect and engage with customers and the greater Baltimore community to make them feel valued.”

Josh Levinson took some time away from managing Charm City Run and, well, running to answer a few questions from The Baltimore Sun about leadership:

What is a leader’s role in building a place people want to work?

Not that it is the only job but it is the most important. All successful organizations are built by people that excel. For people to excel I believe that they have to want to be there. The most simple answer is to create a place where we would want to work. Whenever I have a tough decision to make, I come back to this.

My role is to inspire, teach, be fair, be demanding and to make sure community is at the center of what we do.

How do you decide when to be hands-on and when to delegate?

My job is to be the guardrail. I have to make sure we do not make mistakes that can be fatal. I do not delegate much any more. People here have big jobs and those responsibilities come directly to them. I do not have an inflow of work that I delegate out.

We hire the right people, teach them enough to only get in a little bit of trouble and set them loose. They come to me if they have concerns or want another set of ears and eyes on a particular challenge. Otherwise they do their job.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in leadership?

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Be yourself and be authentic. If you lead based on something you read in a book, it will be fake and transparent. BE YOU but be the best you. I certainly read about great leaders all the time — especially Lincoln — but what I do and what I say is in my voice.

Hire well. Never lose an A player. Let people make mistakes and do not sweat the little things. The non-negotiables are the non-negotiables. Everything else is a learning experience.

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