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It’s the middle of January 2010, and great white tufts of snow fall from the Atlanta sky. The city and its people come to a glorious and rare pause. Brian Symonds molds snowballs with his two children, who are still school-aged for now. He points, snowball in hand, to his neighbor’s yard. In fact, it’s Patrick McBrayer’s yard. Little does Symonds know, as he launches winter’s finest weapon, that McBrayer will become his ten-year-and-counting business partner.
It’s in these circumstances that life provides the most thrilling and unplanned twists. Symonds and McBrayer quickly hit it off. It so happens that McBrayer needs someone just like Symonds to advise a hospital system in the Midwest with its security systems. What kind of person is Symonds, though, and how does a snowball fight between fathers and their children lead to a thriving healthcare IT security company called TrustPoint Solutions? It’s a story that eventually leads us here - to Optimum.
L ong before that infamous snowball fight, the high-school graduate Symonds is recruited to play football at West Point. When a first-semester back injury ends his career with the American sport, it’s no problem for Symonds. Enamored with flying, he’s always been interested in the Army and its fleet of aircraft. Upon graduation, he’s commissioned as an officer and spends the next eight years as a Black Hawk pilot.
30,000 feet above the landscapes of Latin America, South Korea, and the southeastern US, a Black Hawk pilot has an opportunity to consider life’s quandaries. For Symonds, maybe he’s pondering the counter-drug operations he’s leading or the systems engineering to connect the US Government’s networks around the world. Either way, eight years in the military has equipped Symonds with training not only in security and systems engineering but with a strong leadership philosophy. That part comes later, though.
After the military, Symonds joins civilian life with the desire to prove himself and his capabilities. He wants to be a self-made man. The journey takes him to many places, developing and leading a team for a geo-satellite company that establishes internet around the world, and later advising a defense contractor that supports the US Government in Iraq and Afghanistan. He even expands his capabilities with an MBA at Emory University, which establishes his home base in Atlanta. At the center of this path, though, one quality remains constant: he’s focused on how security and networks advance how we exist in our technical spaces.
When McBrayer introduces Symonds to the healthcare industry, Symonds is in for a shock. “I remember thinking,” he says several years later, “that there was no standardization of how IT operations were conducted in health systems. And, for such critical networked systems, there was almost no security investment in the beginning. No one seemed funded well enough to do security the right way.”
The desire to bring structure and process to healthcare IT operations fuels Symonds’ niche focus on the industry. It is clear to him that healthcare IT has vast room for improvement. He builds a capable team with McBrayer, focusing on repeatable standards and developing his team members. Over the next ten years, the TrustPoint team will serve healthcare clients across the US, with a reputation for quality, relationship-driven advice, and service.
On New Year's Eve 2020, Optimum Achieve acquires TrustPoint and Symonds becomes president. Symonds has been building his leadership philosophy and skills for years, and the transition feels natural.
“Leadership is the art,” he says. “It’s inspiration. Great leaders develop the vision, but they lead by example.” Symonds describes his personal leadership style as setting high expectations for himself while giving his people ample space to develop their own styles and lead their teams
“At West Point,” he continues, “we studied a lot of history. I still read a lot of history books. Those great military leaders – MacArthur, Patton, Grant – their leadership could really sway a battle. In turn, I want to inspire people to do things not because they have to, but because they want to.”
Symonds gets it – in healthcare IT, there is a plethora of EHR customizations, ancillary systems, and a never-ending need to optimize the way organizations conduct business via tech. Health systems leaders face tough decisions daily. When it comes to security concerns in healthcare, though, three issues come to mind for Optimum’s president.
With those three security takeaways in mind, it’s impossible to predict that a rare snowfall in Atlanta would lead Symonds to Optimum. But then again, the journey started much earlier than that fateful day. Maybe it started at West Point, perhaps earlier. We’ll never know. But one thing is certain – Brian Symonds and his team are focused on relationships and doing what’s right for our clients, their systems, and, ultimately, their patients.