Published in Albuquerque Journal
Sunday, September 5, 2004
Santa Cruz, N.M.-Based Company Provides Security Around the Country
By Martin Salazar
Journal Staff Writer
SANTA CRUZ— Gurutej Khalsa had always dreamed of being a cop, a dream he chased by attending the federal law enforcement academy and graduating at the top of his class.
But police agencies in New Mexico— unable to see beyond his turban and long beard— weren't eager to hire him.
Unwilling to shed the trappings of his Sikh religion or to give up his dream, Khalsa turned to four friends, and together they launched Akal Security back in 1980. Akal comes from Sanskrit and means "undying" or "deathless."
"We borrowed $1,200 on a used pickup truck, and that's what capitalized the company," said Daya Khalsa, one of the five founders.
Those were the company's humble beginnings, he said. Today, Akal is one of the country's leading private security firms, employing thousands and attracting federal contracts worth hundreds of millions. Despite its success, the company has kept its headquarters in the small village of Santa Cruz, just south of Española.
Devinderjit Singh Khalsa, 23, a college student and Akal employee, said he thinks the company has remained loyal to the Española Valley because that's the community that nurtured it.
"We consider ourselves to be an integral part of the Española community ...," he said. Twenty-four years ago, Akal Security had no administrators— just five friends working as guards and trying to keep their business afloat. Because he was the only one of the five who could balance a checkbook, Daya Khalsa said, he was handed the tasks of keeping the company's books and handling its payroll. He carried out those duties when he wasn't on guard duty.
From Day One, the company's philosophy was simple: Provide a level of service that's a cut above what others in the industry provide, Daya Khalsa said.
The quality of service has left an impression on its customers.
"Akal is just head and shoulders above as far as I'm concerned," said Mick Miller, public safety director for Expo New Mexico. Akal has been providing security at the State Fair since at least the mid-1980s.
"I've seen them grow," Miller said. "They're incredibly successful. They have a client servicing standard that is unheard of in the industry."
Akal's first job was providing security at St. John's College, where Gurutej Khalsa worked as security director. He convinced the college to contract with Akal. From there, the group found more customers in Santa Fe and Española.
"We got a reputation early on as the kind of guys who would go into tough situations that no one else wanted to go into and deal with them— rowdy bars and places like that," Daya Khalsa said. "We don't do that kind of work anymore, but Gurutej was able to get us established with that kind of work."
Within about two years, three of the five founders walked away from the company, Daya Khalsa said.
But Akal soon hit its stride.
Around 1983, real estate and industrial clients in Houston and Los Angeles tapped the company for its services, Daya Khalsa said. Then in 1986, the company capitalized on its status as a small business and began competing for federal contracts, which now make up 80 to 85 percent of its work.
In 1990, Akal won major contracts to protect White Sands Missile Range and federal buildings in such cities as Denver, El Paso, Albuquerque, Kansas City and St. Louis. The company has continued to grow, especially since 9/11.
Akal guards federal courthouses in 44 states, Army installations in eight states, and detention facilities and airports throughout the country. But it has also hung onto its local contracts, providing security to northern New Mexico schools and for the New Mexico State Fair, among other clients.
Company officials won't comment on what Akal's annual revenues are, but published reports peg the number around $500 million.
Of Akal's 12,000 employees, which include both full- and part-time workers, roughly 10,000 work at federal installations or federal buildings. The company also has between 150 and 200 employees overseas. About 800 people work for the company in New Mexico.
Applicants must pass a background check and complete at least 40 hours of training. Beyond that, the company follows the dictates of each contract. Those contracts generally require a certain number of training hours, which can include anything from how to use firearms to CPR.
The company is also active in the political arena. According to a Federal Election Commission database, Akal has made political contributions of $97,000 since 2000. Among the beneficiaries were both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Daya Khalsa and other Akal executives have contributed another $30,000 to mostly New Mexico politicians since 1997, according to the FEC.
"We believe in being part of the process," Khalsa said.
The company's headquarters occupies a five-acre compound in Santa Cruz cluttered with 10 doublewide office buildings, which company officials say are at capacity. Akal is considering constructing an office building on the compound.
Besides its corporate office in Santa Cruz, Akal has branch offices in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The company employs 90 people in Santa Cruz; about half of them are Sikhs.
"It's been a very family oriented business, and there's a large Sikh community here," Devinderjit Khalsa said. "So people that have shown interest or had the opportunity to work for the company do."
Sikhism, which espouses tolerance, equality and the worship of one God, was founded in India in the 15th century. There are more than 23 million Sikhs worldwide. Sikhs established a community in the Española Valley in 1971.
Daya Khalsa grew up in New England, Conn., and came to New Mexico in 1972 for a meditation festival. Northern New Mexico and the Southwest captivated him, and he ended up staying.
"It's a very beautiful area," said Devinderjit Singh Khalsa, who moved to Santa Cruz with his parents a number of years ago after finishing high school in California. "I think the physical beauty of the land attracted people— and the warm reception that the members of the community gave to them."
Devinderjit said the people in the area were open to other ways of life.
"This is really a multi-faith community," he said, "and that allowed Sikhs to thrive here, I think."
Akal Founders Want To Keep Owners Private
Grutej Khalsa and Daya Khalsa may have been the driving forces behind Akal Security's success, but despite being among its founders, the two don't have an ownership interest in the company.
Daya Khalsa is somewhat elusive about disclosing who does own it, saying only that its shares are held by a nonprofit organization. According to the company's incorporation documents filed with the state, Akal has 1,000 shares.
Daya Khalsa and Gurutej Khalsa, who are not related, still maintain key roles in the company. Both are senior vice presidents. Gurutej Khalsa oversees all of the security operations. The two are also on the company's board of directors, according to a filing with the Public Regulation Commission.
Daya Khalsa said it's unlikely that the company will ever be traded publicly.
"In many ways, it really has a lot of characteristics of a family business and has really a commitment to remain that way," he said.
Copyright 2004 Albuquerque Journal