Business of the Year

Simmons relies on faith to build DSR

Garry Simmons says the success of his business is the result of being guided by a higher power.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
A show area inside the office of DSR gives clients a view of the company’s capability.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Having a secured paycheck kept Garry Simmons on his job with a security systems company.

A side hustle doing the same thing supplemented his income. Then his faith kicked in and the part-time gig became too much to walk away from.

As Simmons puts it, the side work kept “escalating (and) escalating.”

“I just feel like every step of the way, God was directing me and I was listening and tying to obey him,” Simmons said. “It was scary but I kept doing what he told me to do. Every time I did that, it was fruitful.”

That side job that Simmons turned to is now Data Set Ready, a small business that provides service statewide for government and private agencies. DSR footprint is so prevalent that the company was selected as Business of the Year by the Capital Outlook.

“I’m absolutely honored because I never thought that I would have this honor,” Simmons said. “I’m just out here grinding, doing what I enjoy doing.”

The seeds that have sprouted into a successful business were planted early on, though. As a boy growing up on Tallahassee’s Southside, Simmons scoured the neighborhood in search of old electronics that he would splice into something workable.

He even made a miniature electric car and once made a hot dog cooker using wire, nails and wood.

Simmons’ life took several turns, including an eight-year spell in the Navy. His assignment was working as a computer technician. His passion for technology took over soon after being discharged from the military. He found himself working a fulltime job.

He felt content, not knowing that the higher power he trusts would lead him to starting his own business.

“It never was my goal to have a business,” said Simmons, 65. “My goal was to survive like everybody else.”

He obviously has done better in the 35 years since he started DSR.

Today his company provides the infrastructure for information technology systems. Some of what their work covers include wireless setups, close circuit TV systems, audio/visual systems, card access systems and intercom.

Simmons has brought his company from a start-up with one van that doubled as his family vehicle to now having 15 vehicles and 25 employees. A storage unit was the place where he kept spare parts. 

Today the company owns the building where it’s set up on Tower Road.

And, never mind that he is CEO of his company, Simmons sometimes lends a hand to his crews.

Slowing down doesn’t seem like an option.

“When you’re grinding you’re not thinking about those kinds of things,” he said. “That’s good in a sense that in your head you are not thinking that you’re more than you are.”

Korey King, operations manager at DSR, has seen Simmons’ modesty since he started with the company 26 years ago. 

“I haven’t seen anyone work so hard up close like this,” said King. “I’m in awe of him. He just outworks everybody.

“He has an understanding that most people don’t have. He is just so knowledgeable and things he doesn’t know he just dives in head-first; learns it, masters it and then teaches everyone else.”

DSR’s client list reads like a who is who in business, according to its website. They include Leon County Schools, Jefferson County Schools, Florida Department of Labor, Apalachicola Forest Youth Camp, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, Office of the Governor, Tallahassee Community College, Florida State University and FAMU. 

DSR has also done work in Alabama and South Georgia. Their out-of-town clients also include the Capital in Jackson, Miss., and General Dynamics in North Carolina.

“If the job is big enough we will go anywhere,” Simmons said.

However, that has a stipulation that work outside of Tallahassee has to be jobs that can be done in a timeframe that won’t disrupt his employees’ family life, Simmons said.

Some of what Simmons heard and saw as a boy growing up not far from FAMU’s campus made an impression on him. When the marching 100 practiced, he would tie a towel to his shoulders and use a broom sick as mace. He eventually joined the band after graduating from Rickards High School, where he helped the team win a state championship in basketball in his senior year.

While attending FAMU, Simmons held down several part-time jobs while working toward an electronic engineering degree. 

At the time, he was revered in his Southside community. Merrell McQueen was one of those who knew of Simmons, who eventually became his mentor. Their paths cross initially when Simmons was guest speaker at a detox facility where McQueen sought help for an addiction.

He recalled Simmons speaking about having to confront some of the same demons he was attempting let go.

“His story was so identical to my story,” said McQueen, who did a stint in the Air Force. “But the real kicker was this: he talked about God that changed his life and got him off of drugs. That got my attention.”

The two men stayed in contact and Simmons, who at the time was starting up DSR, offered McQueen a job. Later, he bought a pickup truck for McQueen. 

“The day I met Garry and heard his story, was the day I started to have hope about my situation,” said McQueen, who has settled into marketing and advertising. “When somebody comes and gives you hope that’s a great thing.”

Simmons is still an influencer who doesn’t hesitate to tell his story in hopes of improving the listener’s life.

His success in business gives him leverage, as he confidently faces the future – trusting the faith that got him where he is in the first place.

“There is nothing in my mind that I can fail as long as I’m doing what I love to do,” he said, “and I know I’m doing what (God) has directed me to do.” 

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