This article was originally featured in I95 Magazine.
Being in business for 75 years is an accomplishment that any company would be happy to celebrate. The world has changed dramatically over the years and having the ability to navigate the constant ups and downs, while still being a leader in the industry, is a feat that very few businesses can claim to have accomplished. And for Baltimore accounting firm Ellin & Tucker, ongoing success and persistent innovation is business as usual. But for the firm’s leadership, as it was for founder Lester Ellin, success is not completely defined by the number of clients, prestigious awards or revenue that’s generated. Instead, Ellin & Tucker’s team is also in continual pursuit of another important goal: being a steadfast partner that the community can depend on.
A Different Definition of Success
Since first opening its doors in 1946, the firm has enjoyed the recognition as one of the Mid-Atlantic’s leading accounting firms, providing expertise, services and guidance for private companies, independent schools, high-net-worth individuals and nonprofits. While they have continued to add new professionals and expand to new industries in the past seven decades, Ellin & Tucker has never lost sight of the role true business leaders play in helping the local community thrive.
“This is a city filled with unmatched opportunity, talent and diversity,” says Ellin & Tucker CEO Edwin (Ed) Brake. “But it’s also filled with challenges that need to be solved from the inside out. If we want to see real change that actually makes a difference, business leaders need to take action, while inspiring others to do the same.” Brake also says that the people best suited to help solve the problems Baltimore faces are the ones who call the city their home, not waiting for others to take the lead.
That’s one reason why Ellin & Tucker’s commitment to charity is ingrained into the very culture of the firm. When employees choose to give back, it’s not because they have to, but because they want to. It’s a pattern of compassion that is designed to build organically, spreading to every corner of Ellin & Tucker. For the firm, a truly successful employee cares about more than just numbers. They care about people.
A Foundation of Philanthropy
In 2008, the firm began exploring new ways to help give every employee, regardless of their professional experience, a chance to put charity into action. The result was the Giving Back Committee, formed with the specific mission of supporting a diverse range of Baltimore nonprofits and the people each group works tirelessly to help. Then, taking it a step further, the committee started the Week of Caring in 2015, selecting five different regional nonprofits each year to focus their support. The annual week-long effort helps to showcase the incredible diversity and impact of the area’s many philanthropic groups, each one doing its part to make the city of Baltimore, and the surrounding region, a better place.
Grace Wickwire, who chairs the committee, says, “Since I’ve been working with the Giving Back Committee, I’ve seen how much of an impact we can have when we all come together to help the community. We’re all part of this city and when you can see the work you’re doing making a real difference, it makes you want to keep giving back. But it also makes it easier to get others to want to engage and step up too.”
Through the committee, Ellin & Tucker employees are able to see real change in action. This past year alone, Ellin & Tucker partnered with First Fruits Farm, BARCS, the Maryland Zoo, Health Care for the Homeless and Art with a Heart, helping to address issues like food insecurity, animal welfare, workforce development and homelessness. It’s through this ongoing community service that employees gain an honest perspective into how their time and effort build a stronger community and instills a life-long desire to continue giving back. Over the years, the Giving Back Committee has helped thousands of Baltimoreans in need through dozens of local nonprofits.
As employees grow and mature with the firm, Ellin & Tucker encourages team members to take active roles in the community. Though they continue to work on the front lines of charity, donating hundreds of hours to important causes, they’re also empowered to pursue board seats and committees, enacting unique programs that help to right endemic problems and overcome generational challenges.
“Part of our culture as a company is to help our employees grow and mature with us, helping them to improve professionally, and personally,” says Ellin & Tucker COO Aileen Eskildsen. “We give them the tools to find success and put them in the roles and positions that will support their growth. But part of that means building their familiarity with philanthropy and making it so normal and inspirational that they want to do it at every stage of their career.”
And that includes the highest levels of the company. Brake, for instance, serves on the executive committee of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore (DPOB), a nonprofit focused on fostering a more vibrant and welcoming downtown community. As a member of DPOB’s executive committee, and the chair of its safety committee, he’s known for his passion to drive tangible results for a cleaner and safer CBD for Baltimore City residents, employers and visitors.
Other team members serve on boards and committees and volunteer their time to cultural institutions, human services organizations, and community foundations that support the company’s key initiatives, including Civic Works, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, Living Classrooms, Baltimore Choral Arts Society and the Abilities Network.
“No matter where you are in your career with our firm, you can find a way to make a difference,” adds Eskildsen.
This unwavering focus on having an impact also affects professionals who have yet to join the firm. Kevin Kiddy, a talent recruiter at Ellin & Tucker, says that the company’s values are vitally important to attracting ideal prospects who will align with the firm’s culture. “Today, people want to work for socially responsible employers, and they can see that our values guide every relationship we have with clients, team members, and the community,” Kiddy says. “By joining our team, they’re excited about the opportunity to not only shine as a professional, but as a person.”
Being a Force for Real Change
Many of the same problems Baltimore faces today are the same issues previous generations had to contend with. Over the years, numerous ideas and programs have been tried, but the same problems remain. That doesn’t mean they aren’t unsolvable; they just need a new approach that is sustainable.
Take for instance the ongoing issue of economic disparity that many neighborhoods in Baltimore continue to face. To change the narrative, some leaders believe the youngest residents and members of the workforce need to be presented with new opportunities and avenues for success, making an impact on the lives of Baltimore youth to help our community overcome some of its greatest challenges.
One of those leaders is Brake, who sees an opportunity to help facilitate change by utilizing the region’s strengths in education, health care, philanthropies and foundations and community organizations. In 2021, he publicly endorsed and continues to support the University of Maryland Baltimore’s CURE Scholars Program, after seeing the work being done by Brake’s longtime friend Edward St. John, the founder of St. John Properties and the St. John Foundation. CURE is a groundbreaking year-round initiative that prepares students from 6th to 12th grades in public schools in West Baltimore for research, STEM and health care career opportunities. By giving disadvantaged kids the opportunity to find professional success in these in-demand careers, the CURE program gives them the chance to break the cycle of generational economic inequality and create a strong community.
The public-private partnership is a model for the collaborative approach to problem-solving and a perfect example of partnership between private businesses and volunteers.
“Making a difference takes a long-term, shared vision,” says Brake, citing businesses, philanthropies, community organizations and government officials as equal partners. “There are plenty of programs that have come and gone over the years that create a lot of buzz and excitement in the moment. But if we’re going to make a real difference in this city, you need to roll up your sleeves and want to do the hard work.”
That hard work also means creating the next generation of difference makers to bring fresh ideas and solutions for the underserved in our community. This is where the culture of Ellin & Tucker once again comes into focus. By empowering and motivating its youngest and newest employees, the firm is inspiring the city’s future advocates, activists and leaders.
“When you are surrounded with such driven and hardworking people on a daily basis, the future is bright and it makes me feel like we can face anything together,” says Wickwire. “It’s not just what we do as accountants but what we do for each other and the community. There’s a lot of work to be done, but with Ellin & Tucker, I’m inspired and ready for tomorrow.”