Over nearly three decades at the Chattanooga Heart Institute, Paul Farmer has developed a reputation as a builder of medical practices, of facilities and perhaps most importantly, relationships.
But for all his success helping to run one of the region's biggest cardiothoracic surgery centers, the Red Bank native began his career in finance and accounting for what was then Chattem Inc., now Sanofi, for nearly 10 years, working as an assistant to Chief Financial Officer Bob Bosworth.
When he was 30, Farmer got a call from a friend at the Arthur Anderson accounting firm, urging him to take a job as a regional finance officer for hospitals run by Volunteer Health across Tennessee. Farmer ultimately became CEO of the Dunlap hospital.
"I found I really liked the medical field, dealing with physicians and patients," Farmer says. "Every day is different, there's never a dull moment, and what we do can make a huge difference in many people's lives."
Farmer worked at Volunteer in Nashville for a couple of years before he joined Physicians Care and later Elk Valley, also based in Nashville. By 1995, he was eager to return to his hometown of Chattanooga to raise his children and begin his career at the Heart Institute as its finance director.
The next year, he was promoted to operations head; and in 2002, he was named CEO of the practice.
In his 28 years with the Heart Institute, the practice has grown from 12 cardiologists in a single location to 27 cardiologists, four cardiothoracic surgeons and 20 advanced practice providers working out of seven locations. The practice had fewer than 50 employees when Farmer began, but has more than 320 employees today, with plans to continue growing.
Farmer says he is most proud of the management team he has built. He also helped coordinate the development of the $85 million Guerry Heart and Vascular Center in 2014, and worked to recruit top-quality surgeons and cardiologists, building a company culture for patient success.
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons has awarded the surgeons at the Heart Institute the highest rating for coronary artery bypass surgery. And Farmer said they worked for two years to integrate the Heart Institute with CHI Memorial Hospital -- later earning praise from U.S. News and World Report, who recognized the Chattanooga institution as the "best regional hospital."
"I think our arrangement is unique," Farmer says. "We are wholly owned by the hospital, but we have been able to keep our autonomy, for the most part, with our own board and our own operations outside of the hospital."
What do you do for relaxation/to beat stress?
Travel with my wife and deep sea fishing
If you could choose another profession, what would it be and why?
An attorney -- specifically a litigator. I enjoy the challenge of putting together the pieces of the puzzle and either defending or negotiating.