There’s only one guy Sam Sarkar said he trusts to shoot him, slash him with a machete and then stab him.
That’s how Dean Kinder, a 29-year veteran of the El Paso Police Department, found himself preparing to shoot Sarkar on a recent Wednesday afternoon, in a remote desert location under the brilliant blue El Paso sky.
Sarkar was wearing a black polo shirt, cargo pants and one of the bulletproof vests designed by his company.
A former Royal Navy weapons officer notorious for selling his products at an arms fair while wearing a kilt, Sarkar founded Sarkar Defence Solutions in Scotland seven years ago. FYI: “defence” is the way they spell “defense” in the United Kingdom.
Last week, economic development officials in El Paso announced that Sarkar Defence, which makes ballistic body armor and tactical equipment, had established its U.S. headquarters here in El Paso.
“It was probably one of the most strategic locations we could be in – right on the border with Mexico and equidistant from the East and West coasts. The culture was excellent and the food fantastic,” Sarkar said.
Sarkar, who speaks with a polished Scottish accent, talked with El Paso Inc. by phone last week while driving in Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, where his company is based.
Sarkar Defence has opened a small office and warehouse at 11601 Pellicano on the Eastside.
“In five years’ time, I see a full-fledged defense manufacturing center in El Paso,” Sarkar said.
He hopes to hire 30 employees, including engineers, machinists and cutters, over the next year or two.
Materials would be sourced locally as much as possible.
“Very little is imported, and that is how we control quality,” Sarkar said.
A bit sore
It was Sarkar’s idea to prove the effectiveness of his products to himself and his customers by having Kinder shoot him in the chest with a 9 mm pistol.
Video of the event is posted online on YouTube.
“I was sore for a couple of days and a little bit red, but nothing more,” Sarkar said.
Kinder, who fired the shot, retired from the El Paso Police Department last month to join Sarkar Defence as its vice president of U.S. operations. At the time, shooting his boss wasn’t part of the job description.
“Who can say they have done that before,” he said.
His hometown, Kinder said, is the perfect location for Sarkar Defence’s U.S. headquarters.
“We have one of the largest military installations in the world in our backyard, and you can just go down the list of the law enforcement agencies here,” Kinder said.
The company’s customers include more than 20 armed forces and law enforcement organizations worldwide, including the U.S. Army, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Saudi royal family and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
An order placed by the sheriff’s department some years ago is how Sarkar first heard of El Paso.
“The people were extremely friendly. We have had nothing but utter welcome in El Paso, and that went a long way in the decision-making process,” he said.
Sarkar, 35, was born in India and moved to the United Kingdom as a boy. He’s a civil engineer by trade but hated the profession so much he figured the best way to get away from it was to join the Royal Navy, where he served in the submarine service.
Later, Sarkar worked as a senior manager for NATO Submarine Rescue Services.
He started Sarkar Defence in his bedroom, sourcing bulletproof vests from India and selling them. But he was appalled by the poor quality of many of the vests on the market. So he bought a sewing machine on eBay, and began making his own.
Now he employs 20 people in Scotland and projects $6 million in sales this year.
On April 14, Sarkar Defense was to be awarded the 2012 Queen’s Award for Enterprise under the International Trade category. The awards are the most prestigious accolades for businesses and individuals in the United Kingdom, according to the official website of the British monarchy.
Sarkar first reached out to local economic development officials for help establishing his company’s U.S. headquarters here in El Paso in August.
Cary Westin, vice president of the newly formed Borderplex Alliance, which develops the economy of the region, said having Sarkar Defence in El Paso is significant and builds on the city’s international presence.
“It adds to El Paso’s defense industry cluster, reinforces the capability of law enforcement here and when you bring a company that has a capability that isn’t already here, it helps in your ability to attract other companies,” Westin said
Last November, Sarkar Defence became a client of the local HUB of Human Innovation business incubator, which helped the company establish itself in the United States and helped its executives learn the “U.S. way of business,” Sarkar said.
Right now, the HUB is also helping a Europe-based company and another from Asia, HUB director Cathy Swain said, although she couldn’t be more specific until an official announcement is made.
“We are sitting on an amazing frontier,” Swain said of El Paso. “We are the gateway to the Americas from Nova Scotia to Cape Horn.”
The HUB is applying to become certified as a “soft landings international incubator” by the National Business Incubation Association. The designation will help the HUB land more foreign businesses, according to Swain. She envisions the region becoming a center for tech companies – a silicon border.
Meanwhile, back in Scotland, Sarkar said he is learning Spanish and craving food from his favorite El Paso restaurant – El Taco Tote.
E-mail El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.