SONIA GARAPATY - CEO, FSC, Inc. Consulting Engineers
FSC opened for business long before Sonia Garapaty came aboard in 2005. The years before her involvement are important to understanding her story.
“My father, Hasu Doshi, started FSC in 1979, just 10 years after moving to Kansas City from India. He believed in a need for fire protection services and built his engineering consulting business around it. That was a huge risk at the time. His first employee was my mother, so you can see why the company was a big part of my world while growing up.”
Sonia’s father encouraged her to join FSC right after college, but she wanted to prove to herself that she could succeed on her own first. And that’s just what she did over the next 11 years. Sonia blazed a trail in the telecom industry that included world travel and two U.S. patents in her name. After starting a family, she began thinking about moving back home.
“My father had created and lived an American dream. He came to this country and made something great. After going my own way for so many years, I decided to move my family back to Kansas City and help him continue that dream.”
Sonia joined FSC in 2005 as a vice president. It was a little scary at first. Self-doubt crept in, and she struggled.
“I realized I was getting into an industry I knew nothing about. I had to reinvent myself, gain technical expertise and create new relationships. I was an electrical engineer and had no business degree. I didn’t even know how to read financial statements. I was the owner’s daughter too, which meant I had to prove myself.”
What got her through? Family.
“My family, especially my husband, supported me like no one else could. They had so much confidence in me, and it diminished any fear of failing. My father treated me like a colleague more than a daughter. He knew I could do it.”
She did it by putting her management, client relations and marketing skills to work.
“I focused on growing the company. My father wasn’t doing this at the time because business was already so good. But when I came aboard, we both started thinking more about the future of the company. It was energizing.”
Her first step in her VP role was to explore marketing possibilities, and an innovative approach gave her momentum.
“My father and I realized together that I shouldn’t start at the bottom and work my way up to understand the company because I could rely on him and our expert management team for operations details. Instead, I took a top-down approach to learn enough about FSC’s services to sell them – but not so much that I could design them. I got a good grip on the public face of the company and found my niche.”
Her eye for opportunity quickly made a difference for FSC. In only a few months, the company added new services, merged with another company to create a subsidiary, and opened an office in India. Within three years FSC had grown to be a parent company with three subsidiaries and 58 employees.
“I think the defining moment for me personally was our merger in 2007. We acquired a company bigger than us, and I led the negotiations. I was so proud of how it turned out. We went from 17 employees to 48 pretty fast after that. I knew what we were doing was amazing, and the future was exciting.”
Your business is only as good as its talent
By 2010, Sonia’s father had cleared her path to replace him as CEO, and she became the majority owner of FSC. Not a bad track record for just five years on the job. It has taught Sonia to be fearless.
“It’s OK to fail. You have to take risks. Always stay grounded in your core competency, but don’t be afraid to branch out. FSC started as experts in fire protection engineering services. We’re well known for that. Now we’re building on it with other engineering services that are needed for the projects we work on, such as mechanical, electrical, plumbing, code consulting, and commissioning. These types of services fit very well with our core.”
Sonia warns other small businesses to avoid expansion unless their foundation is solid. She says in any company, people are the foundation.
“Your business is only as good as its talent. If you’re going to succeed, it’s essential to have the support of everyone involved in the business. Invest in your employees, and look for ways to keep them motivated and passionate about their career path within your company.”
How has the Kansas City area helped FSC grow? Sonia says the community has been like a trusted partner since the company’s earliest days.
“We were the first company to take advantage of Kansas City, Missouri’s Human Relations Department’s Mentor-Protégé Program. It was a new program back then. It was a way for small, local and minority-owned businesses to get involved in larger city projects.”
The program put FSC on the map. They became the prime engineering company behind the multimillion-dollar Kansas City International Airport terminal renovation. FSC handled the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection.
“The city has always searched for ways to give small businesses a boost, and that’s such a big reason why we have a thriving small business community today.”
FSC is certainly thriving, and has literally left its mark on hundreds of buildings around the area, from the H&R Block Headquarters and the Power and Light District to Children’s Mercy Park, the home of Sporting KC.
“I feel like that’s perhaps the biggest way FSC gives back to the community. We are helping to define so many buildings that define the metropolitan area’s landscape.”
But Sonia says the impact of FSC’s work in the community transcends bricks and mortar. She’s proud of how her family has helped to grow the local Indian-American community and support its culture. And after hiring an executive to take over operations at FSC, Sonia now devotes more of her personal time to charitable work. She wants to keep making a difference for the “big little city” she loves.
“I call it a ‘big little city’ because it offers so much, including arts, culture, entertainment, sports teams, great schools and beautiful parks.”
Sonia’s happiness has always been rooted in family, and for her family, Kansas City is home. As FSCengineers new possibilities with a new generation of leadership, the surrounding community will prosper too. That’s how growing home works: Sonia Garapaty’s success is taking both her business and her hometown to the next level.