His name is James Gullatte, but you can call him Boss. His biceps, decorated with tattoos from a past life, bulge out of a cobalt T-shirt that shares his company tagline, Results Do Matter.
In 2004, Gullatte arrived in Columbus with about $100 in his pocket and a laser-sharp focus: to help as many people as possible get fit. Overcoming obstacles from poverty to homelessness and incarceration, today he’s a certified fitness trainer and owner of B.O.S.S. Fitness, a two-room gym just southeast of Downtown, where he has logged over 175,680 training hours with roughly 1,500 clients and has earned over $2 million.
Paint me a picture of you while growing up.
Gullatte: I grew up in Westwood. Growing up in Dayton, you either did two things: worked at GM or ran the streets. I started running the streets around 11 years old. I began to go take care of myself, stealing candy. I was taking it to school, selling two candy bars for a quarter, to make money, to take care of the things I couldn’t get at home.
What do you think made you turn to crime at such a young age?
Gullatte: I remember the first time I got caught stealing. Everybody came over, so it triggered a signal in my mind that if you get in trouble, you get attention. I was a baseball star and I was traveling all over Ohio on all-star teams and made it to the Little League World Series, but no one ever came to the games. I translated getting in trouble with getting attention.
You spent time at a youth detention center in west Columbus. Why do you think you continued your path after you left there at 17?
Gullatte: When I got home, there were people now standing on the streets selling drugs. The community was going downhill. But everybody had money. I began to steal cars.
I had this small goal: I wanted to be able to purchase a kilo of cocaine, which at the time was $24,000, around 1987. It was all about survival. But then the bottom fell out. I became addicted to cocaine. That was part of the reason why my business fell apart, and I ended up with seven children by four different women. I lost everything and became homeless from 21 to 34. Sandwiched in between were 10 years in prison.
Can you point to a time, while incarcerated, when you decided to change your life?
Gullatte: Prison is where I learned how to love me. This picture is still in my head: It was 1995. I had just worked out, and I was feeling good about what I was doing, and it just hit me, it stopped me: I asked myself, “Do you love yourself?” I took a hard look at myself at age 25, while I was sitting inside this cage, and my journey began to change. From that point on, it was about how to love me.
And so you started devoting all your time to fitness?
Gullatte: Another inmate had a Flex magazine. I read that magazine from cover to cover, three straight times. And that’s when I said, “I’m going to be a personal trainer.” As a trainer, I could hustle, and make money, and get girls, and not go to jail? That’s what drove me at the beginning.
And that led to the concept of B.O.S.S., in prison, right?
Gullatte: Yes. I started B.O.S.S. Fitness in 1999, while I was still incarcerated. I wrote up a fitness program for the institution, and we came up with the acronym for B.O.S.S—“Bodies of Stamina and Strength.” I stopped cussing. I handled my addiction.
When you got out of prison, how did you first get started?
Gullatte: They gave me a bus ticket to the Greyhound bus station around the corner [from B.O.S.S. Fitness]. From that point on, I put my stuff in a locker and everything I did was very calculated. The first six months, I mapped out and scripted and followed everything. It was a part of saving my life and trying to give my grandkids an opportunity. I took all of these things that had happened, and balled it into a big ball of positivity, of energy and motivation and all things that were designed to keep me from being this successful — they didn’t.
When you look back on that kid and everything that defined you back then, do you ever stop and think, “What in the world was I doing?”
Gullatte: There’s no separation of who I was then and now. The only difference is the choices I make. Everything was designed for me to overcome and be successful. It wasn’t designed to keep me down. I was on this path the whole time.
Virginia Brown is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO, a sister publication to The Dispatch. For the full story on James Gullatte, visit columbusceo.com.
Title: owner, B.O.S.S. Fitness
Address: 333 E. Livingston Ave., Columbus 43215
Employees: 5 (full-time and independent contractors)
Revenue: $400,000 in 2019