Ramu Ramanathan (RR): ST Reddiar has been around for 100 years. Fair or not,
there was an impression from the outside that the company was on the decline. Is it true? If yes, do you feel you have arrested this since your arrival on the scene?
Mahesh Karthik (MK): Well, the outside always had its versions about ST Reddiar.
The fact remains that in the last 35-odd years, we have had some good years and
some bad years, but there was no decline. I have not contributed anything to arrest this “decline”, simply because it never existed. Yes, I have contributed towards increasing the growth rate of the company.
RR: You are the fifth generation at ST Reddiar. A word about the famous ST Reddiar legacy. How your grandfather made it big?
MK: Interesting fact: Many believe that my grandfather Rajendran inherited ST Reddiar. This is not true. He was not even directly related to Subbiah T Reddiar, the founder. My great-grandfather was Reddiar’s nephew and he received the controlling rights of ST Reddiar & Sons, the original company based in Quilon (Kollam) after the sudden demise of the founder.
Later, the company was handed over to the male heirs of Reddiar. As a token of gratitude towards his services, my great-grandfather was given the rights to use the name ST Reddiar & Sons. Later, Rajendran, my grandfather, used the name when he started ST Reddiar & Sons (EKM) in Cochin in the late 1950s. He started it from scratch, investing his own money, which he earned in Mysore working for a tire manufacturer. Until 1996, whatever was under ST Reddiar & Sons (EKM), it was all my grandfather’s creation.
RR: Your father, Suresh Reddiar is a larger than life personality, isn't he? A president of the All India Federation of Master Printers plus the Finat group. How do you view him?
MK: My father, R Suresh, could remain calm under pressure. This is probably why he was successful in tackling the most difficult years in 1980s. When things were returning to normal, he lost his biggest support, his father, in late 1980s. The 1990s were redemption. By mid-1990s, he got out of the chaos of the decade that preceded and started building up from where his father had left off. I joined in early 2000s. From then on, we started looking at things from both our perspectives and got our business operations to where it is now.
RR: So are you the fifth generation printer or a third generation printer?
MK: Basically, I am the third generation, but in order to honour those who kept the legacy of the founder going until the time my grandfather started what it is today, it’s always said that he is the third, my father the forth and I the fifth generation. I consider the company a legacy of my grandfather whom I consider the first generation entrepreneur and my father, who has succeeded in keeping it up.
RR: When I met you three-four years ago, you told me about the changes you have initiated. Do you feel the changes have yielded results?
MK: Some of these changes have had huge impacts. This has changed the way we look at our business today.
RR: On 29 April 2016, you printed Kerala's first UV produced Ganapati print on your brand new LS 29 (six colour + coater).
MK: Yes, it was printed on a 300 gsm silver MetPET sheet. With opaque white base, four-colour and drip-off UV coating.
RR: What are the different UV effects you have tried out on it?
MK:It’s just the beginning of a very exciting UV journey for us. The excitement is not only for our team but also for many of our customers and potential new customers who are looking to go the UV way. The best part of this exercise is that the design for the silver MetPET with white base was completely done in-house for the first time. Interestingly enough, I was the only one in our company who has worked on UV machines and designs for UV printing in the past. However, thanks to our award winning press and pre-press team who came together, we pulled out the right print after 3-4 trial and errors.
RR: You are quite a tech adopter. What are the trends you have been spotting?
MK: To be honest, the investments we thought would influence our business 11 years ago are still paying off for us. Nothing has changed much. We made our last major investment in 2006.
RR: What gives you confidence at ST Reddiar about what lies ahead for print?
MK: For now, I think, we must strive to be the jack-of-all-trades. You never know what is going to stay and what is going to go. Instead of mastering one trade, we must wait until the market consolidates and we have a clear vision of what will survive and what will not. In any case, you would already have the basics of the trade that would stay. You would just need to master it.
RR: On our Hisar trip (RR and MK, along with Ankit Tanna of Printmann and Manu Choudhary of CDC Printers, travelled to Hisar from Delhi airport in a car to attend the two-day international conference, Romancing Print, in February 2015) ...
MK: Ah, the famous Hisar trip! And to think I almost cancelled the trip. My father got a call from Anand Limaye, and that's how I showed up. What a miss it would have been!
RR: Yes, at that time, you mentioned that print needs to increase engagement and Indian printers should re-work their strategies. What is your philosophy about how print should grow?
MK: A few years ago, print was produced with a costing methodology of ‘add up your cost’, ‘mark your profit’ and ‘sell’. Now, it is ‘work around the customer’s’ budget and then see where you can make your profits’.
RR: What is your philosophy about how print should grow?
MK: What I meant by engagement is a clear understanding of processes and seeing what makes money and what does not, in a bid to eliminate processes that do not make money and add processes that do. Today, this is the key to count costing for a print buyer.
RR: One of the other things you said in Hisar was, “I think as anything grows, you get in this mode of paying more attention to the customers you don’t have instead of the customers you do have." Why so?
MK: I think I spoke a little too much that day, didn’t I? I should have realised that I was sitting next to a media person.
RR: Quite true. You said, "We have a mindset of making sure that we’re building a stronger tool and a more powerful tool for the people we do have. And when you have that focus, and when you’re really listening to your customers, it tends to grow.”
MK: I see growth in two ways. First is giving a better solution to an existing customer by making new investments, which would help him grow his business. It can be anything from value-addition in print to creating a software solution. Second is to venture into new territories and get hold of buyers in that segment. This needs a lot more thought; this needs much more data in terms of feedback from potential customers.
RR: Easier said than done?
MK: The first way of growth can come from customer feedback or your own observations. It offers potential opportunity for both you and your customer to make money. This may take time, but it is rewarding. The second way may take more time and may be far less rewarding. However, I believe a good combination of both the ways is the ideal way to move forward.
RR: You also said, “The new print consumption culture has been redefined from years to months to moments to micro-moments. It is multi-device and personalised. Therefore, print has to work in order to deliver round the clock content. Print needs to adapt to ensure delivery.”
MK: A simple way to put this across would be to say that print is becoming more and more service-oriented. The terms like moment to micro-moments, personalisation, etc simply means that the opportunity is there in better servicing. Most of these solutions vary depending upon the customer and his line of business. So it’s best to be prepared and find out how we can service the customer to the best of our abilities and to his satisfaction and requirements. We also need to have an open mind to accept the changes in the market scenarios.
RR: In what way your new investments, such as AGS, Naph, other than the Komori will strengthen the path for ST Reddiar?
MK:All the names you mentioned make us jack-of-all-trades. Some of these investments were made following customer feedbacks. We invested in the others with the hope to attract print buyers who are not yet our customers. I also hope it covers all the “dimensions”.
RR: You told me, data is the trump card.
MK: Digital has spiraled up into many dimensions today. I think this Drupa will
throw a lot more light on the digital side than anything else. Having said that, we are yet to find that one concrete (which is going to survive the ongoing disruption) dimension that would make digital (which in itself has many facets) the next big thing. With regard to digital, on-demand is becoming one of the go-to aspects. Personalisation has been there since the first digital machines were introduced in the late 1980s. I feel its charm has reduced while being associated with ‘digital printing’.
RR: And so, the more print invests in generating expert, curated data, the more we will trigger print engagement. Is it doable? If yes, how?
MK: The effective use of data is the way to look at personalisation, but compilation,
usage and profiteering seems quite subjective to markets especially in the area of data collection.
RR: You have done some interesting print work. How did you come up with those?
Did the customer drive it? Did you set the agenda?
MK: Some of it came from customers pushing us. At the start of some of these projects, we believed this may not be our forte. In case of some of the jobs, we provided all the solutions to our customers.
RR: You were part of the first corrugation conference and show in Kochi.
MK: I was lucky to be a part of the first corrugation conference in Kerala. It was a
wonderful event and a chance for all of us in Kerala to interact with some of the big
names in the industry.
RR: Kerala is also a hub for Komori installations and is perhaps the largest
base for HP Indigo. Could you explain the Kerala print conundrum?
MK: Honestly, I don’t know why Kerala is a hub for one particular machine manufacturer. Earlier, it used to be a hub for a manufacturer from Germany. I guess, someone is doing a better job at selling than others.
As far as I know, Indigo has sold bulk of its kits in the photo album segment, which is a big industry in Kerala. Apart from that, yes, there has been an increase in the commercial segment, mainly for short- and medium-runs.
RR: At the KMPA-PWI roundtable in Kochi, you told us, “Dubai or even Gulf countries are cheaper because their pricing or conversion ratio is constant with the USD. So they can get paper from Indonesia or Malaysia for a year steadily. We can't give a long-term quote to our clients as paper price fluctuate.” Have things improved?
MK: The situation has only worsened. The dollar to currencies like UAE Dirhams has
been quite steady, whereas we have had at least 10% decline of our currency against the USD. So buying anything in US dollar has not had any positives.
RR: What do you think about a show like Drupa? Still relevant?
MK: Drupa, for me, is not the once-in-fouryears excuse to have a European vacation, as I have heard some printers say. I always look forward to the show, since most of ‘what’s next’ from exhibitors debut at Drupa.
Thankfully, today, they have brought Drupa closer home to us, instead of us flying to Dusseldorf. I caught most of the big events of last Drupa on Youtube. It went a long way in helping us choose some of our investments.
|A day in Mahesh Karthik's life|
The usual drill is home to office; and then office to home. It would be better if I don’t get into hourly details, as a printer’s life is terribly boring. I don’t work fixed schedules. It depends on the amount of work that needs to be finished. Outside of work my wife is the one who pushes me to weekend events or movies, otherwise I just love lazing after work.
Among many, quoting some of my friends and family members (not the ones that are part of the print legacy) would say "You look like the guy who came out of an island lost for decades". This happens mostly after a very busy season ends. But anyway thankfully long hair and beard are returning back in fashion.
|The ST Reddiar machine fleet|
▸ Screen and Kodak 8-up Thermal CTP platesetter with
▸ The Screen with Fuji Zack processor with conductivity
▸ Sheetfed: Komori, sixcolour + coater UV press
▸ Mitsubishi five-colour and four-colour
▸ Web: Naph, 546mm cut-off for newspapers.
▸ Komori commercial heatset web 38S for magazines and
▸ Muller Martini – six-station saddle stitcher with inline three knife trimmer
▸ Muller Martini – fourclamp perfect binder
▸ Kolbus – 22-clamp perfect binder
▸ Stahl folder
▸ Welbound - 22 station gather and perfect binder