Q&A with 2016 GovCon Award Finalist Sonny Kakar, Founder and Chairman, Sevatec, Inc.

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Sonny Kakar, Sevatec

The finalists for this year’s Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards were announced in September and WashingtonExec is bringing you its annual series with the nominees.

The Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce and Professional Services Council have unveiled the finalists for the 14th Annual Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards, the premier awards event for the Washington area government contracting community. The winners will be named at a Nov. 1 gala dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner.

WashingtonExec talked with one of the finalists, Sonny Kakar, founder and chairman of Sevatec, Inc., to get his take on leadership, among other issues.

WashingtonExec: What would you say are the top one or two leadership qualities necessary to be a great leader?

Sonny Kakar: A sense of empathy and the ability to listen are crucial to the success of any team. To lead, one must also know when to follow

WashingtonExec:  If we were to speak directly to your leadership team, what would they say is your management style? How would your team describe your leadership qualities?

Sonny Kakar: I think the No. 1 word you would hear from my team is “engaged.” I am competitive and I try to instill that competitiveness into my leaders so they compete for our customers, our employees and the taxpayer.

Competitive, high expectations, compassionate. I am demanding of my employees because I care for them. I have exacting standards because our firm needs us to contribute positively to national security missions and U.S. taxpayers deserve our best efforts in everything we do.

WashingtonExec: What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?

Sonny Kakar: In January, I made a trip to my native India on a charitable mission to make knee and hip replacements available to those in need. While I was there, I saw socioeconomic conditions in my hometown that made me realize that there was more for me to do. That was when I made the decision to step down from the day-to-day operation of Sevatec and hire a CEO. This allowed me to pursue more social responsibility initiatives, such as SevaTruck, our nonprofit food truck with the goal of combating hunger in our nation’s capital, especially among children and veterans.

WashingtonExec: What is the No. 1 business book that had the largest impact on your life or professional development? What advice do you have for aspiring leaders in the government contracting industry?

Sonny Kakar: “Good to Great” by Jim Collins helped shape my vision of what it takes to build a great firm. You build greatness through people because your culture and mission will you lead you to financial success, not the other way around.

Buckle your seatbelt! Focus on the long run and your end game, not the short term. Your success in this industry is not measured by your bottom line or your stock price, but by how much you further your customers’ missions.

WashingtonExec: What was your first job? Overall, how did that experience shape your career?

Sonny Kakar: Landscaping and mowing lawns. Very few things have ever shaped my professional life as much as the time I spent landscaping. Not only did it teach me the value of a hard day’s labor, but it also showed me the importance of the service industry as the backbone of our nation’s economy. Worthwhile work is rarely easy. The money I made from mowing lawns and laying mulch paid my way through school… and the hot summer sun convinced me to stay in school.

WashingtonExec: What three pieces of advice would you give your kids?

Sonny Kakar: As a father of three and the founder of my own company, I have found that much of my advice applies to both the way I raise my family and the way I run my firm.

  1. Always be truthful; honesty is not just a policy, but the only way of life;
  2. Try your hardest in everything you do, from cleaning your room to writing proposals; attention to detail matters;
  3. And share your very best with anyone you can – it is the very least any of us can do.

Related: Sevatec Founder, Chairman Sonny Kakar Wins EY Entrepreneur of the Year

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