Sonny Kakar

Taking the Higher Road for Faith and Family

When Sonny Kakar’s father first stepped onto American soil at LaGuardia airport in 1975 with his wife and two small children, he did not speak any English and only had $7 in his pocket. Four of those dollars had to be used for the taxi that would take them to their connecting flight to Washington, DC, which was departing from nearby JFK airport. Upon arrival, the family would be welcomed by the uncle who sponsored their entry into the U.S.

Born in India, Sonny’s parents gave up a lot to come here. But what they hoped to gain – a better life and education for Sonny and his sister – was much more valuable to them. In their native land, the Kakar’s lived the equivalent of an upper middle class lifestyle and were involved in a family-owned business. But Sonny’s father wanted more for his children; he wanted them to get an education.

“I give them lots of credit for making such a bold move,” admits Sonny. “They didn’t speak the language and they had never been to America before. It must have been daunting to cross the world and just arrive without a plan. It’s actually kind of amazing to me.”

Although his father had a very good job in telecommunications, his engineering degree didn’t translate well in the competitive telecom market in the U.S. “So he did whatever he had to do, mostly blue collar work, to make ends meet,” Sonny shares. Within a year, his father got a job at the Baltimore Washington International Airport.

“He worked the afternoon shift from 4 to 12pm and was not home in the evenings. During the day, he had odd and end jobs to earn extra money.”

Sonny’s mother also shared a strong work ethic, taking jobs at different fast food restaurants, until she got a position with the Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO) performing data entry work.

“My mom is the ultimate caregiver; she worked full-time and didn’t skip a beat when she came home, cooking dinner and taking care of everything. They are both really super hard workers,” he says proudly.

From these beginnings, Sonny Kakar learned the value of a hard day’s work and putting family first. He was also grounded in the traditional spiritual practice of the family religion, Sikhism. “Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, even larger than Judaism, but it’s not as well-known in this part of the world,” informs Sonny. “It identifies everyone as equals and a part of the universal brotherhood. Service is a big part of what our faith believes in and it’s such a huge part of me, what I do every day, and what I grew up doing. I wanted to bring that into my business.”

Sonny’s firm, Sevatec, Inc., is a full service technology and management consulting firm serving the U.S. Federal Government. At only eight years old, it boasts 150 employees and more than $20 million in revenue. As a government contractor, Sevatec’s core focus area is helping government organizations solve their most complex, mission-critical challenges focused around strategy, technology solutions, cyber security, identity management, and human capital. Sevatec excels at complex systems engineering and integration for Law Enforcement, Homeland Security, and Defense and Civilian Agencies. They work with a network of partners to address a client’s challenges and achieve their mission-critical objectives, efficiently.

The desire to create a business based on his personal core values was the genesis of the company name. The word ‘seva’, in the language of Panjabi, means ‘a commitment to lifelong service’.

“That became the core element of what was going to be our differentiator,” Sonny notes. “We were going to provide a service commitment that would be unparalleled in the competitive D.C. landscape.”

Sonny was first inspired to explore government contracting while working at Karta Technologies, a company based in San Antonio, Texas, and owned by his wife’s uncle. “It was my first exposure to government contracting. San Antonio is a huge military town. When I began to meet people professionally, I saw people who stayed with companies for years. The loyalty was unbelievable. I fell in love with that culture.”

Three and a half years after opening a location in the D.C. area for Karta, Sonny decided it was time to start his own business. It was in late 2003 and Sonny and his wife were expecting their first child.

“I had to ask my wife if it made sense to start this company, especially since we were expecting our first child,” he recalls. “She’s absolutely the pillar and my motivation for even getting started,” he admits.

Luckily, she gave him the thumbs ups, and it’s been thumbs up ever since. For the last three years, Sevatec has been ranked by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States.

“In the beginning, it was a struggle to attract and retain the right talent. We continued to invest in our core values and corporate culture – which eventually resonated with our existing and future employees,” he relays. Looking beyond just technical competency, Sonny wanted to know how potential employees were really wired. He wanted to assemble a team of people who would make decisions based on the core values that they all believed in. For him, it was all centered around ‘seva’.

Two key components of Sevatec’s success are building a strong relationship with each employee and providing growth opportunities within the firm.

“I try to make a personal connection with every single employee. Even with 150 employees, I still know everyone’s name in the firm,” Sonny reports.

In fact, he still sends handwritten birthday cards for every employee and makes an effort to get to know each of them personally during regular visits.

“It is important to build a relationship with each of our employees. It helps us continue to maintain a positive and high-energy culture and build employee and employer loyalty.”

Several years ago, Sevatec’s employee attrition rate was a respectable 18%. Today it’s less than 10%.

“One of the commitments we make to our employees is that we want to provide them a career at Sevatec. That means we want to hire them for the current opportunity and also provide them with their next career move within the firm. We have to be extremely growth oriented to keep retention high and career opportunities plentiful. So we’ve invested in training, education, and employee development.”

Sonny’s dedication to creating employee longevity has also been noted within the local business community. Recently, Sevatec was named a finalist for the Helios Apollo Award that recognizes employers in the Washington metropolitan region that promote employee growth and development as an integral part of their organizational culture.

In Sonny’s opinion, relationships are key. “My most significant mentor was my wife’s uncle, because I really learned about the importance of building a good team and how to identify people who can truly help make your business successful,” he affirms. “My uncle who sponsored us has also grounded me in a belief system that would not have been there had he not been so proactively involved.”

In turn, Sonny wants to instill that same positive value system into his children. “I want my kids to be able to make really good decisions based on the foundational principles of remembering God, helping others, and giving an honest day’s work.” This commitment to his kids is non-negotiable.

“One of the things that my wife and I agreed to when I started the company was that I was always going to be home for dinner and that I would avoid regular travel. And I’ve been able to build that relationship with our kids, so my quality of life, even though I work hard, has been fantastic.”

Growing up, Sonny attributes his commitment and direction to his parents. Because his parents were set on him being an engineer, Sonny pursued a degree in mechanical engineering. After college, he went to India and was involved in entrepreneurial projects.

“It ended up being a disaster from a financial and investment standpoint, but it was absolutely the most amazing growth experience of my life, mostly, because I knew that nothing could get that bad again.”

So deep is Sonny’s commitment to family that he and his wife agreed that whenever either of their parents needed them, they would be there, and that they would never put them in a home or retirement community. Sonny’s mother and father (who recently retired) now live with them.

“There are seven people in our house now – two parents, three kids and my wife and I,” he laughs.

Sonny’s commitment to family extends to the Sikh community as well and he is a dedicated contributor to organizations that increase cultural awareness about the Sikh people.

“People are ignorant of Sikh Americans and many have been harmed because they were mistakenly identified as terrorists. We’ve been very active and proactive in organizations like Sikh Coalition, The Sikh Research Institute and various other nonprofits designed to increase awareness and education about Sikh Americans,” says Sonny.

As a CEO, Sonny Kakar leads by example. He shows genuine appreciation for his clients, he pledges loyalty to his employees, he possesses a relentless commitment to hurdling barriers, and he models a well-lived life of balance. He doesn’t lead from behind a desk, but rather in the trenches, face-to-face and soul-to-soul, connecting to the shared core values that he has centered his life upon – his family, his business and his faith.

Sonny Kakar

Gordon J Bernhardt


President and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management and author of Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area. Gordon provides financial planning and wealth management services to affluent individuals, families and business owners throughout the Washington, DC area. Since establishing his firm in 1994, he and his team have been focused on providing high quality service and independent financial advice to help clients make informed decisions about their money.

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