WashingtonExec recently interviewed Sonny Kakar, founder, president and chief executive officer of Sevatec, Inc., based in Fairfax. Readers will learn more about his business, and a bit about what he enjoys away from the office, too, including cars and creative projects, which top the list.
The Sevatec team makes a conscious effort to incorporate caring service into engaging the community and the company’s clients, partners and employees, according to Kakar, who speaks in the interview about influences that affect his leadership style and thought process. He explains his faith, his determination to engage each one of his employees personally, the fastest growing component of his business and his effort to improve human rights for religious and ethnic groups through community awareness and education programs.
Kakar’s discussion touches on his strategy for growing Sevatec at a time when the government encourages the private sector to do more with less, as well as the construction of Sevatec’s new headquarters.
WashingtonExec: Which experience from your past would you say is the most formative in your leadership or thinking style?
Sonny Kakar: I have been greatly influenced by several individuals during my career. Dr. GP Singh, CEO from my former employer Karta Technologies, was extremely influential in my life and I established a firm grounding in my values-based management style with his guidance. I’ve also been influenced by several members of my board of advisors and other mentors over the years, as well as my executive team. Each of them has offered me an opportunity to learn and grow, and further develop my leadership qualities and management style. I have an open-door policy and make it a point to communicate with each of our employees across the firm, whether through writing them personal birthday cards or engaging with them one-on-one. Fundamentally, my style of management centers on effective and frequent communication. This is why we have implemented several human capital-related initiatives that allow each of our employees to engage with me and our leadership team. It has proven to be very useful and effective in understanding better what we do well, what needs improvement, and generally how to continue developing our firm. Generally, this approach is consistent with our firm’s core values and has contributed to our continued success.
WashingtonExec: You maintain a strong personal focus on increasing awareness and improving human rights for a diverse group of religious and ethnic groups through community awareness and education programs. Could you elaborate on your involvement?
Sonny Kakar: I’m a follower of the Sikh faith. Sikhism is a 500-year-old religion that was founded in India. It is the fifth largest religion in the world. We believe in three primary tenants: remember God constantly; work hard and ensure your actions are honest; and share your fortune with those less fortunate. One of the physical attributes of a Sikh is to maintain unshorn hair, wear a turban and a beard. Unfortunately, there has been significant confusion and mistaken association with terrorism due to our physical appearance. To help dispel the misguided aggression towards Sikhs due to this false association, several organizations have been formed to educate Americans on who Sikhs are. Sikhism is a very peaceful and respectful religion that has contributed positively across America for over 100 years. However, just because of the physical resemblance to what the media portrays about terrorists on TV, Sikhs across America and the world have been the unfortunate targets of misguided aggression and hate crimes.
Through various human rights organizations like Sikh Coalition, SALDEF, ENSAAF and others, there are grassroots efforts to create awareness and promote tolerance. These organizations work directly with the FBI and other law enforcement organizations, state and local governments, public school systems, the Transportation Security Administration and other organizations to help increase awareness and ensure the safety of our nation’s citizens. I’m a huge supporter of these organizations so that they can continue with their mission to promote religious freedom and human rights.
“I have an open-door policy and make it a point to communicate with each of our employees across the firm, whether through writing them personal birthday cards or engaging with them one-on-one. Fundamentally, my style of management centers on effective and frequent communication.”
WashingtonExec: How have you grown the company as the government has asked the private sector to do more with less? What would you say is the fastest growing component of your business?
Sonny Kakar: Whether it is in times of abundance or austerity, I firmly believe that we must continuously substantiate our value proposition to all of our stakeholders — clients, employees, and partners. At the top of the list for us to ensure we are providing high value is by attracting and retaining top talent. We’ve implemented Dr. Bradford Smart’s Top Grading, a recruiting best practice program that ensures high capture of top talent. With this fundamental baseline of solving our client’s greatest challenges with exceptional talent, we are able to provide high-value solutions more economically than our competitors. Further, we have invested heavily in quality and process improvement. Sevatec is a CMMI Level 3 organization for both Development and Services, and we’re also ISO 9001:2008 certified. These investments directly benefit our clients through delivery of high quality solutions and achievement of expected results.
Our fastest growing components of our business are agile software solutions, content management systems, mobile technologies and data solutions. These technology areas have the opportunity for the highest impact for our clients and their ability to serve the needs of their customers and stakeholders.
“Sikhism is a very peaceful and respectful religion that has contributed positively across America for over 100 years. However, just because of the physical resemblance to what the media portrays about terrorists on TV, Sikhs across America and the world have been the unfortunate targets of misguided aggression and hate crimes.”
WashingtonExec: What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
Sonny Kakar: I love construction projects, building furniture, stone carving and fast cars. Since I don’t get a chance to really leverage my mechanical engineering degree at Sevatec, these hobbies allow me to work with my hands and use a different part of my brain.
WashingtonExec: How is the construction of Sevatec’s new headquarters going?
Sonny Kakar: After 18 months of design and build, we finally moved in! The creative process of designing and envisioning the most appropriate workspace for our firm was an immersive undertaking. Our space is very, very high-tech and contemporary. It kind of has a “Google” feel with open space, lots of glass, high ceilings, concrete floors, etc. This office represents who we are in the industry: an employer of choice; a partner with government, and a high-tech/high-value solutions provider.