When Dana Kerr started her freshman year at the University of Maryland, she knew she wanted to pursue a technical field. At the time, in the early 1990s, there were very few women in the information technology field.
Aspiring to become a lawyer instead, she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. “I just started applying for jobs and the first job I got was at NASA,” she said. “I got really lucky.”
While working at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, she processed satellite data. Within a few years, she was named manager of web development and helped to implement the first web-based security badging system at Goddard.“I just fell in love with IT and started doing that,” she said. “My dreams of (being) an attorney ended.”
After working with a couple of other organizations, she noticed the IT companies brought in to work on projects were not doing their best work.
“They kind of lost sight of taking care of customers and employees,” Kerr said. “Because I was the customer liaison and I was the manager for the employees, I couldn’t give the employees raises and I couldn’t visit the customers like I wanted to. It was all about winning new business and growing the company.”
In 2003, she quit her job as a director and decided to start DK Consulting LLC. Focused on providing management and technology solutions based on industry best practices, the Columbia-based company works with state, federal, local and commercial customers. Their core competencies include enterprise web solutions, maintenance and operations, project management, acquisition assistance and staff augmentation.
“We come in and look at the state agencies and really become the customer subject matter experts on their applications and systems,” she said.
Kerr’s goal for every project is to provide a personal touch to account management as well as providing a great place for employees to work. “We try to treat every employee and customer like it’s our first one,” she said. “You need that employee to have that amazing experience so other people want to work for you and you need that customer to have that amazing experience so you can get a reference and you can get another customer.”
DK Consulting earned its first government contract after being approached by another company. They wanted Kerr to be development manager for a billion-dollar federal development effort. She agreed, but only if they hired her company as a subcontractor.
When the State of Maryland Consulting and Technical Service Plus (CATS +) became available, Kerr decided to try for the contract as a prime. She recalls staying up all night with a co-worker to write the bid, going to Kinko’s at 2 a.m. for printouts and driving to Annapolis to deliver the final paperwork with her infant daughter in the backseat of her car. Her company won the bid and has worked in 23 state agencies since with the Departments of Commerce and Transportation as their largest clients.
For those thinking of getting into government contract work, Kerr notes the projects take a lot of work and non-wavering dedication.
“Listen to what the customers need,” she said. “Not necessarily what you are selling, but what they need.”
“Sometimes your customers are not buying what you are selling, and that is okay. … I think if you can keep your head in the game and focus on the customer and your employees, and deliver what you say you are going to do, I think you can succeed.”
The longevity of her business as well as its relationships is Kerr’s biggest professional success. Many of her staff and clients have stayed with the company for more than a decade. Kerr knows competition is tight for contracts and top-notch employees, so she is proud her company has been able to retain both. The business has also made The Inc. 5000 rankings four times.
There have been challenges over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic was hard because staff had to work from home and she was unsure how well they would be able to perform.
“I have to say that worked out tremendously for us,” she said. “Our staff exceeded our expectations and I think our customers’ expectations.”
Kerr notes it is a struggle to juggle owning a small business and being a wife and mother of two, with a medically fragile special needs daughter. However, the business has allowed her to create her own schedule, including when she sat with her daughter in the NICU. “I can work from there,” she said. “I can work when I get home at night and do what I have to do because I own my own company.”
When systems her company works on remain a strong and trusted resource, Kerr knows she and her staff are making a difference.
“When an employee says to me ‘I stay here because I know you will take care of me’ or ‘I know my family is taken care of,’ or a customer says ‘You are the only person that responds. Your company is the only one that responds the way that they do’ — I feel like I am making a difference,” she said.
This article is featured in the 2021 edition of The Daily Record’s Expanding Opportunities Resource Guide for Small, Minority and Women Businesses. Published in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs, Expanding Opportunities explores diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in Maryland’s small business community. Read more from Expanding Opportunities on this website or read the digital edition.