Advance Business Systems is Recipient of Baltimore Business Journal’s Family-Owned Business Awards

Advance Business Systems has been recognized as a top family-owned business by the Baltimore Business Journal. The award was given to companies who exemplify what makes Baltimore such a special place to live and work, and will be celebrated in a virtual program this August.

The following excerpt was taken from Advance’s feature that originally appeared on the BBJ’s website:

Family-Owned Business Awards 2020: Advance Business Systems 

Established: 1964

Employees: 160

Generations: 2

Location: Cockeysville

Jeff Elkin can’t separate his childhood from the family business.

He was born two years after his parents, Alan and Lois Elkin, opened Advance Business Systems, a Cockeysville company that sold copiers and other office equipment. His first task at Advance was putting labels on brochures.

“Literally, Advance has been in my life in one way, shape or form for my entire life,” says Elkin, now president of the company. “I remember my father would come home a little later than my mother. I remember asking him every day, “How many copiers did you sell?”

Advance sells much more than copiers these days. Over the years, the firm has expanded both its services and its territory. Elkin said newer technology services and products were a natural progression — and were crucial to keep the family-owned business alive in an era where tech dominates the workspace.

How has Advance changed since your parents started the firm?

As we’ve evolved into managed IT services, document management, software and technology, those were just natural progressions based on where our customers’ businesses were going and what their needs are. It’s really easy to say that. Transitioning a business is hard work. That’s where all the heavy lifting is. Long-term, successful companies really understand that.

How do you plan to keep evolving?

Adapting to change has been a crucial part of running Advance for the past nine years. We are never going to depart from our value system — what it means to be a customer of Advance — and how passionate we are about their businesses. The products and service are going to continue to evolve indefinitely. We’re always going to be really focused on that “why.” We’re going to continue to grow, [but] not just for growth’s sake.

You didn’t join Advance after you graduated college. Why?

I became a stockbroker for Legg Mason after college. What led me back was the culture, in retrospect. It was a familiar feeling when I would walk into the business. There was this really special family culture, a culture of the family toward the employees.

You joined the company in 1990 and took over from your father, Alan Elkin, in 2011. He was a local celebrity. What was it like to follow in his footsteps?

That’s one of the reasons I didn’t join the business sooner. I needed to establish my own identity. In the early years, it was challenging to be comfortable in my own skin, understanding we are not the same two people.

Do you envision your sons joining you in the business?

That’s the $64,000 question. I have three sons. I can tell you my youngest son, unless we start selling tropical aquariums, he’s not coming in. He’s a marine biology major.

Does that mean the business will live on?

It’s not a prerequisite for Advance continuing as a family-owned business. We want to make sure we have the best people in the right roles. I feel that’s one of the keys to perpetuating the business, is really making sure that the right people are put into the right roles — that they understand the business, they understand the culture, they are passionate about what we do. Whether that’s someone with the last name of Elkin or some other last name, the business can still perpetuate as a family business. Really generating the next generation of leaders is the most important thing on my mind.

So you consider ownership separate from leadership?

Ownership and leadership. They’re really two issues. Sometimes, both the family and leader boxes can be checked with the same person. Other times, when you try to force it, it’s what causes a family business to stop perpetuating.

Click here to read up on the rest of the 2020 Family-Owned Business Awards winners.