Rajiv (Raj) Sardana firmly believes the United States is “the greatest country in the world,” an understandable sentiment given he is effectively living the American dream. Sardana’s journey from a relatively poor immigrant student to a giant in his field is not unheard-of, but few have achieved his levels of success. Sardana’s company now generates over $3 billion in annual revenue, and he has a $2.7 billion net worth, according to Forbes. He began forging his tale of success in the Atlanta area over 30 years ago, and now he is proud to call Buckhead home.
Sardana grew up in New Delhi, India, to what he describes as “quite humble” roots in government housing. With a desire to forge his own path, he decided to travel across the world to study mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. He arrived as an immigrant student in the United States in the early 1980s “not knowing a single person in America,” he said, and he supported himself by washing dishes at the university’s cafeteria.
“Survival is the key when you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from,” he said. “But going through all this adversity made me stronger.”
His engineering studies served as a foundation for his future success, but not necessarily directly. He first worked as an aircraft engineer in Connecticut before moving back to Atlanta to help design engines for Tomahawk missiles. However, when the Cold War ended and missile contracts dried up, he was forced out of the job.
At this point, Sardana said he had managed to save enough capital to venture out on his own. He still had a desire to work in the tech field, but before he returned, he gained valuable insight into entrepreneurship. He founded his first company, a print shop, in Stone Mountain with one full-time employee and one part-time employee. After building the print shop into a successful enterprise, he began investing in commercial real estate, retail shops, and gas stations. By 1997, Sardana said he was able to get “back into the technology business” having secured enough capital to finally do so in the industry that requires significant investment.
“There was such a huge demand for programmers to fix the Y2K bug, and also, so many engineers were needed to build the internet as we see it today,” he said.
His company began expanding with engineers from the U.S. and India, and the pace of the industry and Sardana’s company hasn’t let up since. However, success didn’t come immediately.
Sardana’s 27-year-old son, Rajan, witnessed the struggles of building a company from the ground-up while growing up.
“Sometimes things got tough,” Rajan said. “We used to live in a one-bedroom apartment in a not-so-good area of Atlanta, and there were many times spent where I was sharing a pullout couch with my sisters. It was not a great time…but we believed in him. We believed in the business. It was definitely a risk in the early days of Innova, but he pulled us out of that. My father is my hero. I know a lot of people say that, but I saw the pain that came [from starting Innova] firsthand, and it gives you a real appreciation for what he’s been through and makes you understand the value of what he’s done.”
Innova Solutions, Sardana’s latest and most successful venture that began as ACS Solutions, is headquartered in Duluth with about 55,000 employees in the United States, about 10,000 more in India, and other employees scattered across the globe. The company provides businesses with digital product engineering, cloud services, cyber security and more. Sardana says his company is a technology partner of about 300 of the companies listed on the Fortune 500 list.
Sardana contributes the massive growth of his company to continued hard work and “a blessing of God.” Innova Solutions now generates revenues surpassing $3 billion annually. Sardana said the company first reached $1 million in revenue in 1999, and it took 12 years to reach the $100 million threshold through enduring effort. In the last 12 years, the company has gone from $100 million in annual revenue to over $3 billion.
“I have no idea how that happened,” Sardana jokes. “We just work hard, stay focused and drive the business every day. We are a very innovative company, whether it’s the processes or the technologies, we find a way to do it better, faster, and at a lower cost. And that was the key to success. When you are competing against the established giants, you have to bring something of value they can’t bring, and innovation has always been the key. That’s the reason we continue to get a chance at the table.”
Sardana also credits his company’s “agility” for finding solutions, which he says helps Innova stand out from the competition.
Sardana is determined to keep Innova Solutions as a private firm and serve as a legacy company. That appears to be shaping up well with all three of Sardana’s children — Sonia, Shivani and Rajan — working in leadership roles in the company.
“They are so enthusiastic about taking this company to the next level,” he said.
Rajan has a leading sales role for the company, while Sardana’s daughters, Sonia and Shivani, serve as executives in delivery and finance. Rajan credits his father’s foresight in helping to ensure Innova becomes a generational company.
“We are all reliant on one another to make this work,” Rajan said. “If I make a big sale, I rely on my sisters to make sure that product is delivered and the numbers work out. Kudos to my father to set it up like a well-oiled machine.”
Rajan, who also calls Buckhead home, said he had a natural passion to follow in his father’s footsteps, and his father continues to be an inspiration.
“He’s always someone you can turn to, always an open book and always someone you can lean on,” Rajan said. “It means the world to have the opportunity to make [Innova] a generational company that we can also pass down.”
Sonia, Sardana’s daughter, said she takes immense pride in where the company now stands, and is eager to continue bearing its torch for the next generation.
“He put everything on the line and took risks to make his impact on the world and provide for his family,” Sonia said. “At Innova, we are all very proud of what he has done, and we are excited to be on the journey together. I am looking forward to continuing to partner with my family and the many amazing people in the organization and take it to the next level.”
Sardana also feels he would have sold the company were the industry not still exciting. He expects generative A.I., for instance, to have a larger impact on our daily lives and the ways in which we conduct business than even the internet.
“If it were boring, we would have sold the company a long time ago,” he said.
Sardana also believes there is far more to the company than its $3 billion annual revenue.
“It’s not even about the money, it’s about doing the right thing,” he said. “I think we are making a huge impact for our communities. We are creating 55,000 jobs here in the U.S. and thousands elsewhere. We are making an impact. If you give something just to get somebody out of a difficult situation, that’s only one kind of impact. If you create jobs, you are giving somebody the dignity of their work, and you can set them for life. If you have a job, you can start a family, your life is set. And that’s the difference we’re making to such a huge population of people. And we are driving the engines of this economy. We are advancing America to become a great place to live in and do business in. And that’s why we are the greatest country in the world, because of who we are and what we do.”
Sardana’s belief in developing a strong workforce extends to the family’s philanthropic efforts. Sardana’s wife, Nita, spearheads the family’s fervent support of the YWCA’s Teen Girls in Technology program, which aims to foster future tech careers for young women. Sardana proudly boasts 100 percent of the teens in the program later study at the collegiate level. Many of them are the first in the families to attend college, he said.
The family’s support of the program is accomplished through The Innova Foundation, which Nita leads as the company’s VP of Community Outreach & Corporate Giving. Nita says The Innova Foundation is the “heartbeat” of the company and partners with about 150 organizations with the intention of “empowering lives and inspiring change.”
Like her husband, Nita says she also comes from humble roots. Her father was a wartime refugee and had to move to India to “rebuild his life.”
“We understand what it is to be going through so many struggles, and it’s very important for us as human beings to give back,” she said. “We feel a responsibility to help as many people as we can. Giving back to the community is part of our DNA.”
Nita said the foundation has a focus on women’s empowerment. In addition to the Teen Girls in Technology program, the group supports scholarships through the Jeanette Rankin Foundation, named after the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Education is another pillar of the organization’s efforts, Nita said. In addition to supporting other scholarships, The Innova Foundation have “adopted” schools in India. These schools are often dilapidated, Nita said, and the organization works to provide much-needed repairs and provide valuable technology for students to be successful. Later, Nita said, the foundation provides scholarships, internships, and jobs to ensure these students continue to thrive.
Other efforts of the foundation include support of the Sewa International, which recently has helped rescued thousands of students from the ongoing Russia and Ukraine war, and the Earth Saviors Foundation, which houses, feeds, and provides medical care for the “abandoned” elderly in India.
Additionally, Nita said the foundation also focuses on mitigating worldwide hunger by partnering with organizations like Feeding America, Meals on Wheels, and No Kid Hungry.
These efforts go beyond simple donations, Nita said.
“It is important in whatever we do that we try to make sure the impact is great,” she said. “We want to know who and how we are impacting. It’s very important to me to speak with each organization and go above and beyond what they’re asking.”
Raj and Nita previously planted roots in Eagle’s Landing, Johns Creek, and Buford, but they are now pleased to call Buckhead home. Earlier this year, they purchased the former home and 14-acre property of business leader Charlie Loudermilk along Davis Drive. Sardana said he has long desired to build an estate on ample acreage, but he never believed he could find such a property in Buckhead. He said he “jumped” at the opportunity to purchase the Davis Drive home after Buckhead real estate broker Ben Hirsh showed it to him.
“It’s very lively here,” he said. “All the malls and restaurants are here, it’s a very central location. We moved to the suburbs because we had a growing family and needed more space, but now that all the kids [have moved out], we thought we would get closer to Atlanta to enjoy some more culture. I was so fortunate to see something of this size — 14 acres in Buckhead — and with always wanting to build an estate-type home, that’s what we are going to do here in Buckhead.”
Sardana says he also enjoys traveling, aviation, and racquetball in his free time, and his daughter, Shivani, said he is revelling in his role as a grandfather.
“He will genuinely stop whatever he’s doing to be with his grandkids,” Shivani said. “They love him so much, and they talk every single day.”
Shivani said her father is an inspiration, and much of the life skills he instilled in her will be passed down to her own children.
“He always taught us that hard work will pay off,” she said. “If you put in your best effort and work hard, you can do anything. That’s always stuck with me, and I’ve been trying to instill that in my kids as well. I’ve definitely looked up to him my entire life, and he’s someone I’d like to be like. Seeing where he came from and where we’ve come to, not many people get to accomplish that. I’m a very proud daughter.”