Louisville-based IT company Advanced Business Solutions has moved into a new 30,000-square-foot, $4.4 million building in a historic Clifton location to provide space for its growing workforce, which now exceeds 100.
ABS provides IT consulting and implementation services. Founder and CEO Mark Lewis said that means ABS employees can suggest how companies can achieve their IT needs, but they can also provide the services, ranging from cybersecurity to cloud services and server installation.
He said the solutions that ABS provides are unique to each client and depend on their size, growth, current IT infrastructure and which parts of the system are working well or which need to be improved.
The CEO, who founded the business in his home, said that revenue has grown steadily at 2% since the company’s founding, reaching about $14 million last year. Employment now exceeds 100, up from 70 three years ago. Lewis said the company is hiring about one employee per month to keep up with growth, which is fueled in part by general economic growth and greater demand for IT services.
Lewis told Insider that ABS sets itself apart from competitors by making sure that the solutions the company provides are in the best interest of the client — not in the best interest of ABS. The Louisville company has five technical account managers, whose job involves creating a road map to achieve the client’s goals, and none of those managers receives a commission.
“The whole (idea) is to be impartial,” Lewis said.
ABS offers clients choices and advice on what approach might work best, he said, but ultimately, the client has to decide what works best for them.
Lewis credited much of the company’s recent growth to its expertise in electronic health records, which account for about half of the ABS business. While the company’s client base is concentrated on Kentucky and Jefferson County, it provides services in 35 states. It serves a businesses in sectors including manufacturing, retail and law.
About 40% of ABS clients have some IT workers in-house, which means ABS augments the staff or handles a specific aspect of the IT needs. For 60% of clients, ABS handles all IT needs.
The founder said ABS gains new clients primarily through word-of-mouth or when employees of companies for which ABS has provided services move on and recruit the Louisville-based company to handle IT for their new employer. Only two of the more than 100 employees work in sales.
The CEO recruits many of the employees himself. During a visit to a Best Buy store, Lewis noticed that nearly all of the customers were waiting to deal with one employee there. After interacting with him, Lewis understood why, and offered him a job on the spot.
Lewis said customer service is a critical skill that is difficult to teach — unlike technical aspects of the job. He hired another employee after his father told him about an excellent customer service experience he had. Those and other hiring stories have become part of the ABS lore, and Lewis and other employees recounted some of them Thursday when the company officially unveiled its new headquarters.
The customer service focus has remained with the company since its early days, when Lewis said he was baffled about why IT staffers, both internal or external, had the notoriety of used car salesmen. Some of the reputational deficiencies in the industry were a result of poor communication, often resulting in clients setting their own expectations, which, Lewis said, were often unrealistic. ABS staffers make sure to communicate clearly about possible solutions, a systems’ capabilities, its costs and its value to the client.
The new facility — a significant upgrade from the 6,000 square feet the company occupied at 2908 Brownsboro Road — has two floors, the first of which is mostly occupied, leaving the second for expansion and a company gym, which, along with a ping-pong table and basketball goal helps the company retain employees.
Lewis said he places a great emphasis on finding the right balance for employees between work and life, which means sometimes they need more time to take care of a sick child or parent, and sometimes the company needs them more because of an emergency.
“To be able to ebb and flow … is really important to me,” Lewis said.
The upstairs gym, for example, can save employees valuable family time because they don’t have to drive to another location before or after work.
Retaining employees is critical to retaining clients, Lewis said, because long-term employees understand every aspect of a long-term clients’ needs.
The new headquarters, a modern building flooded by natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows, features a colorful floor, exposed duct work and giant monitors that help employees keep track of clients’ IT needs. The building sits on a 3.5-acre property that formerly housed Dougherty Coal Co. and, most recently, Louisville Paving.
At $4.4 million, plus another $1.3 million for the 3.5-acre property, the HQ project proved significantly more expensive than the $2.5 million investment Lewis had in mind when he began looking for new digs about four years ago. On two occasions he was close to acquiring properties near downtown, but both deals fell through, which, Lewis said, was probably for the best.
“We’ve just grown so fast since then … that we knew we were going to need something bigger,” he said.
Thursday’s ceremony was attended by customers and dignitaries including State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-33; Metro Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9; Mike O’Leary, president of the Clifton Community Council; Christy Jarboe, senior economic development manager of Louisville Forward; and Terri Weber, investor relations manager at Greater Louisville Inc.