A post from the Lessons in Leadership series featuring Jim Leventis.
Community service was ingrained in Jim Leventis beginning in his earliest days. His involved, motivated father was both a business leader and tireless community advocate. He taught his children that being successful was bigger than your own personal goals and motivations. Helping others as well as the community that supported everyone was not kindness; it was what one should do. That lesson was one reason Jim pursued law when he came back to Columbia in 1974. Establishing his own law practice would allow him time to pursue community service.
As his practice thrived, Jim became well known for his deep involvement in many aspects of the Columbia community. He was easy to spot — an earnest, genial man who seemed to be everywhere. Between the business community and civic groups there was always something to be involved in.
“The civic organizations in town were always looking for helpers, not just donors but bodies,” he said. “You can find many things to do if you want to do them. We are lucky in that we have a lot of good volunteers here in our community.”
Jim’s wife Laura described his role in many groups and efforts in a way that echoed his own father’s youth in Greece — Jim was a shepherd. But rather than guiding sheep, Jim shepherded projects. He kept efforts moving, found people to involve, and inspired both donors and volunteers. His particular interest was not in the end result; he wanted whatever he was working on to be efficient and helpful. If it could be made more useful, he would figure out a way to make that happen.
“I liked to make sure the structure of the system was good and that it worked for the people who needed it,” said Jim. “I also liked to find out what the needs were and see how we could best do something about them.”
Jim became such a fixture in the community people often went to him if they were looking for someone else. He had the ability to connect many people and, if he didn’t have a direct connection himself, he would pursue other possible connections until he got the person he needed on the phone or in person. “Jim’s rolodex was the envy of many,” laughed Laura.
Jim liked and enjoyed his public service. “People would take you under advisement and accept your interests. Then you all work together to get something done,” he said. Columbia had a growing number of volunteer opportunities and a corps of reliable volunteers, including Jim, who helped guide the city’s growth.
He supported the growth and progress of several high profile local organizations by serving first as a member and, later, as a leader. Jim became the USC Alumni Association President in 1977 and was elected president of the Rotary in 1985.
Today, that rolodex is still the envy of many. Jim stays in the know on the happenings around Columbia and remains well connected even in his retirement. “He reads The State newspaper every morning. He also reads the Wall Street Journal, Columbia Business Monthly, Columbia Metropolitan magazine and all the business news,” said Laura. “When he sees someone’s name in an article, he’ll call them to thank them for what they’re doing. When he reads something that resonates with him, he’ll call the people involved and say, ‘I see what you’re doing. What can I do to help you?’”
That willingness to connect is a core Leventis trait. It was an outward focus Jim developed watching his own father interact with the people around him. Jim, in turn, has set the same example for his own children and to countless others he’s worked alongside in the business and civic sectors.
“Leadership is getting things done,” he said. “Leadership works whether you’re in a business, church, family — anywhere.”
Lessons in Leadership is a series on First and Main, the blog of First Community Bank in South Carolina. The series chronicles the experiences and insight of Jim Leventis, one of First Community Bank’s founders. In addition to distinguished professional careers in finance and law, Mr. Leventis is well known for significant contributions to his family, community and the Columbia business arena.
Along with eleven banking offices in the midlands of South Carolina, First Community operates First Community Financial Consultants, a financial planning and investment advisory firm, and Palmetto South Mortgage, a mortgage division, located in Columbia, South Carolina.