Q&A with Ed Brake at Ellin & Tucker
We were lucky enough this month to spend quality time sitting down with Ed Brake, Managing Director of the Baltimore-based CPA firm Ellin & Tucker. Since taking over the management of the firm in 1990, Ed has more than doubled its client portfolio and its staff. A dedicated family man, Ed is also an active and well-respected leader in the Greater Baltimore community, currently serving Board positions with Maryland Zoo in Baltimore & Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore. During our interview, Ed shared pearls of wisdom from his career, big plans for the future of Ellin & Tucker and reflections on the most important people in his life — his family.
Name / Title: Edwin Brake, Managing Director, Ellin & Tucker
First job: An internship led to my first job working for a CPA firm in Philadelphia. Going off as a country boy to the big city for the first time set the tone for my independence and my belief in myself as a person.
Best advice for a rising professional: It’s a long road to success and you need to climb that mountain carefully and strategically. Learn as much as you can at each stage, share wisdom as you go along and find people who will share wisdom with you.
Favorite pastime: I have two enjoyments in life when it comes to my own time — I clean my car once a week (inside and out) and I take care of my own lawn. Both of those pastimes create immediate gratification and allow me to tune out the rest of the world for a couple of hours.
Let’s start with some really exciting news. Ellin & Tucker is making a big move this fall to 400 E. Pratt St. Tell us what prompted this decision.
A large portion of my time over the past 10 years has been devoted to the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore (EAGB), which has given me an understanding of how important the central business district is to the City of Baltimore and the surrounding counties. When looking at the new central business district, which is being redefined as a “U”, 400 E. Pratt St. puts us right in the middle of it. I felt it was important for us to be as centrally located within that district as possible.
The ability to put our name on the building in a prominent location made it even more enticing. Ellin & Tucker is going to be front and center, on all three public-facing sides of the building, visible to everyone that walks or drives along Pratt Street. We are going to get instant name recognition and that’s exciting.
Photo courtesy of Peter Fillat Architects
We know the details of the new office space are “hush-hush” but can you give us the scoop on your favorite part of the new digs?
The new office is really designed to be an office of tomorrow, so the entire concept is exciting for me. We asked our associates what they wanted in a new office and we were able to incorporate the feedback we received from them. There were were a few things everyone agreed on, for example, coffee is very important to accountants. The new office includes a coffee beverage center, which will be fully stocked with premium coffee options and fresh juices. It’s designed to be a bright and energizing space. And hey, I’m happy because like my colleagues, I’m a coffee drinker!
The other things I’m going to keep quiet for now…
Ellin & Tucker has a rich history and an excellent reputation in Greater Baltimore. What’s the secret to keeping the firm so successful in more recent history?
We’re very fortunate that our founder Lester Ellin and his partner Ed Tucker created a system of values and benchmarks for success that wasn’t purely financially driven — it’s about people. We value the people we work with: our employees, our families, our clients and our community. Staying true to those core values has helped us weather some challenging times. I’ve found that when we are true to our values, good things happen and we are successful.
You’re one of the only accounting firms in the U.S. that’s led by a Managing Director who is 100% operationally focused. Does this give you a competitive advantage?
I believe it does because it allows us to provide world-class customer service. Having an operationally focused Managing Director allows our partners to focus on our clients. When the partners aren’t focused on managing the operations of the firm, they can devote more of their energy to meeting their clients’ needs. When a partner has clients but also manages the firm, there’s a conflict of interest as both have great and very different needs. For example, one of the most important operational tasks I handle is staff evaluations and professional development. Because I can focus on developing the talent of our firm, our staff can in turn provide better service to our clients. Our clients win, hands down.
Many of our readers are business owners and executives who have had a hard time finding a good accountant that’s a true partner. What’s your best advice for hiring an outside accountant?
The most important thing is to hire someone with whom you can develop a relationship. They should not just be a vendor but a professional partner and advisor. The better each one can get to know each other as a person, the better the relationship will be. Secondarily, specialized industry experience really does matter. Choosing an accountant who has industry knowledge for how your business operates will give you greater chances for success over the long term, and will give you greater confidence in the firm you choose.
On a personal note, your dad owned his own business when you were growing up, how did that experience help shape you into the businessman you are today?
There were certainly pros and cons to growing up with a father that owned a business.
One of the pitfalls of being a businessperson is that it’s not a 9-5 job and it has responsibilities outside of a normal job that take you away from your family. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to make that sacrifice and I made a point of managing my own work-life balance differently. On the other hand, listening to him talk about the ups and downs of his company gave me an opportunity to learn about the world of business from an early age.
One of the greatest lessons my father taught me is that every year is a new year. He would always share his results with us, some years were good and some years were bad. Every year begins with a clean slate and we need to rise to the occasion to reach our greatest potential. He also taught me the importance of the “Balance Sheet.” This might only make sense for accountants, but I definitely learned that while many businesses focus on the profit & loss statement, great businesses build balance sheets.
Who else has helped define the person you are today?
There are two people — my grandmother and my mother — who I think have made me a better person. My grandmother did it all. She raised three kids on her own, working any job she could to take care of her family. Later in life, she was a full time volunteer for her church; buying and delivering groceries on a weekly basis to families and the elderly that were less fortunate, and the hospital; she gave a lot of time and energy to reading and providing love to sick children and the elderly. She was a volunteer up until the age of 94 and she never wanted anything in return. If you look at my mother now (she is turning 80 this August), she is that same person. They both taught me about giving of myself, there’s so much you have to give to others and you have to do it not because it’s easy, but because it’s the right thing to do. Giving back feels good.
Is there anything or anyone else we haven’t asked you about that you want to mention?
Their names are Dolly (my wife) and Kris, Heather and Josh (my kids). My family is so important to me, always has been and always will be. My kids know they can rely on me to listen, to share a tear, to provide guidance, discipline, structure, but most of all — love — without them I’m nothing.