Matt Hollandsworth: From Pentagon Help Desk to IT Security
As the Director of Corporate Security, Facilities and Safety at AMERICAN SYSTEMS, Matthew Hollandsworth has been in the trenches from the beginning. Armed with just a Microsoft certification, he landed his first job answering the phones at a computer help desk at the Pentagon. He’d only been there a short time when IT security began to take a front seat. “They needed someone at the organization to step up and learn and start taking that role on, so I did,” Hollandsworth says.
Between now and then, Hollandsworth has worked in a couple different defense department locations and was involved in a contract with the Department of Homeland Security when it was first created in 2003. “We were key subject matters in the different disciplines of security, and we went in and helped build their program, so that was pretty exciting,” says Hollandsworth. “I’m quite proud of that because many of the policies are still being used today.”
The Microsoft certification is a distant memory now; Hollandsworth received a bachelor’s degree in computer networking in 2004, a master’s in security management in 2007, and he’s a year away from completing his Ph.D. in business administration with a specialization in organizational leadership. “I’ve done all my formal education while I’ve been working full-time, which I do not recommend,” he laughs.
As a defense contractor, AMERICAN SYSTEMS faces many of the same threats that other companies do, but “on top of that, we have state-sponsored actors that are actively trying to penetrate our systems and facilities,” says Hollandsworth. “We provide people and expertise, so ensuring that those people are able to protect their own intellectual capital and knowledge is a unique risk in our sector.”
One of the best parts of working in his sector is the ever-changing requirements from the federal government. “I like the challenge of being able to implement them and even trying to influence the creation of that policy. I participate in working groups that provide feedback to the government as they’re trying to develop policy, giving them industry viewpoints on the impact of what they want to do,” Hollandsworth says. However, he acknowledges that it’s also one of the biggest hurdles the sector faces. “Having different contracts and different customers with different security requirements does create some complexity.”
The tight-knit community of his sector also makes working in it a pleasure, Hollandsworth notes. “It’s a very large group of people, but it feels very small. Everybody wants to help each other out, so I have noticed that there isn’t any competitiveness between us,” he says. “Even though my company might be competing against my friend’s company for a contract, which happens all the time, if I have a question or I need another opinion, I can reach out, and we’ll help each other out. We’re obviously not sharing any proprietary material, but we’re always willing to help. I like that the sector is very personality-driven.”
Hollandsworth acknowledges that he’s “lucky” because AMERICAN SYSTEMS is 100 percent employee owned. “You really do see differences; it’s not the company’s money, it’s our money. Everybody’s an owner, so that really drives a different approach and mentality and accountability for their job,” he says.
Staff motivation is the hardest part of Hollandsworth’s job. “Maintaining an excitement for what we do is the most difficult part for me because I think we’re pretty efficient in what we do and security is quite interesting in some areas, but in a lot of areas, it’s compliance-driven, and it’s not the most fun thing in the world to do. Trying to keep people motivated and interested in their jobs and keep them happy can be tough,” he says.
The security team’s reputation is strong in the C-suite, says Hollandsworth. “Our government inspection assessment ratings have been superior, which is the highest you can get, so we’ve been able to incorporate that into our proposals and show that we have a strong security program,” he says. “I think the perception in the C-suite is that we’re doing well. As a matter of fact, I just received a note from the chairman of the board the other day recognizing the good work our department does.”
Internally, the security department’s brand is positive too. “Across the industry, we’ve worked really hard to not be the ‘no’ people, and I think we’ve done a very good job of that in the company,” Hollandsworth says. “We’ve been integrated into the business units, and they’ve given us a seat at the table, which shows me that there’s trust there and a recognition that we’re a valuable partner.”
Between four kids and their assorted activities, working on his doctorate and a long commute, Hollandsworth doesn’t have much in the way of spare time, but he enjoys golf, reading and riding his motorcycle.