Military Service Serves Veterans Well in Business World – Alan Elkin, CEO of Advance

The following excerpt was taken from a feature that originally appeared in the July 5-11, 2013 edition of the Baltimore Business Journal:

By Katie Secret, Editorial Intern

Military service changes people in a number of ways, and veterans find their experiences shape their lives for good. For some veterans, the skills they honed in the military laid the foundation for their entry into the business world. Here are a few veterans who were able to parlay the lessons they learned in the military to the business world.

Alan Elkin founded Advance Business Systems & Supply Co. out of a small E. 21st St. office with his wife, Lois, in the summer of 1964. Elkin said you have to adapt to your conditions and maximize the resources you have — something he picked up during his U.S. Army service during the Korean War.

“In the Army, you have to make the most of what you have to use it for not only the benefit of yourself, but the whole company,” Elkin said. “Every customer and employee is the priority now.”

This attitude spurred Elkin on in his business venture in the beginning. The Elkins “made the most of what they had,” doing everything from planning to deliveries themselves during the early stages of Advance Business Systems.

Today, Advance — The Document Specialists, a document management and solutions company, has about 163 employees. He says it’s profitable and last year it pulled in about $35 million in sales.

But the Elkins have never forgotten where they came from, Elkin said. When it comes to his business style, the military hammered in the idea that customers and employees are what’s most important, not revenue.

“The customer is our No. 1 priority,” Elkin said.

That’s the philosophy that Advance has really grown off of, he said. Elkin said his company understands that all employees are totally dependent on each other. The success of the company depends on the success of each person, just as the success of the mission depends on each soldier.

“Every one of us in this business has their job to do,” Elkin said. “The lives of everyone in your squad depend on you. The life of our business depends on each worker.”