In 2002, during one of the roadshows at New Delhi for promoting the India Label Show, I talked about women CEOs who drive label printing companies. One of them was Kusum Dunglay; the other Amila Singhvi who heads International Print-O-Pac (IPP) in Noida. Since IPP’s print packaging business was galloping at a fast pace, Singhvi decided to exit from the label business and concentrate on IPP’s packaging and book business.
But that got me thinking. In eight years, other women have joined the beautiful world of labels.
On 8 March, which is the International Woman’s Day, I decided to pay a tribute to the best of them.
In 1989, Sushil Bhatia, used to work for Avery Dennison. This is much before he started his own business. Bhatia introduced me to Honey Vazirani, working at Paper Products Limited (PPL), Thane. That was the beginning of this girl’s journey into the world of labels. From being a management trainee in 1989, she rose to be the head of the labeling division of a Rs 700-crore company that specialises in flexible packaging. Vazirani’s has been a decorative, colourful journey. Because, since then, she has been at the forefront of PPL’s foray into the production of labels which began in 1991.
Her job involved client servicing, marketing, product development and leading the labels team at PPL. She handled customers who are the who’s who of the FMCG sector. This included key customers like Hindustan Unilever and Dabur and bringing to them the most premium and modern labeling technologies. In the words of Torsten Jung Lenz, who in those days worked for Jacstadt Germany, "Honey Vazirani is married to labels!"
Having spent 21 years in the industry, she took a sabbatical in 2009. She spent a whole year rejuvenating herself by traveling, reading, spending time with friends and relatives and enjoying good food. Yes, she is a self confessed foodie!
In 2010 she returned to PPL, which has four plants and 1500 employees, to head the company’s HR department. While she is content (very content) and enjoying her new role in HR, you can see the twinkle in her eyes when you ask about her future in the label industry. Her advice to others in the label printing and packaging industry is that "it is a pity that for most in the industry, good is enough." She motivates people at PPL with her mantra, "Good enough is not enough".
In the late eighties, I had the chance to meet a talented screen printer Kartar Singh Dunglay of Goodwork in New Delhi which began it’s print journey in 1955. He is one of the seniors in our industry and belongs to an era and pedigree of people who were in love with their work. Dunglay thinks, lives and dreams - print. It was during that time I met his entrepreneurial wife, Kusum Dunglay.
She is an MBA from London University who paved the path for Goodwork’s entry into label printing. At the outset, she purchased a Mark Andy press and followed it up with a fully loaded Gallus for specialised and decorative labels. Today, she heads the sister concern Reydunn Label Printing in Gurgaon. Backed by a team of 80, she handles ITC, L’Oreal and other leading FMCG groups in India.
Given the experience and innovative heritage that her husband mentored, she was one of the earliest ones to invest in a combination press. Kusum Dunglay is excited at the prospects of tapping the growth which is expected to emanate out of retail marketing in India.
Bharat Mehta is perhaps one of the most soft spoken gentlemen in the Indian label industry. He epitomises the past in as much as the present of the Indian label industry. He is one of the first label printers in India. I have sat with him and chatted for hours about the good old days in this industry. We have admired the evolution of label production. Bharat Mehta’s Super Labels is one of the leading and most respected label printing companies in Mumbai. Both his sons have joined the business in recent times after duly completing their management studies.
Silently but with quiet determination, there is Mehta’s wife, Meena, a BSc in chemistry, who provides vital inputs and emotional support. For over 20 years, she has been driving the organisation with her unbridled motivation and enthusiasm. The key thing which many outsiders are unaware of is: she participates in the decision making.
Renuka Raj is an MBA from IIFT Delhi, spent the first three years of her career with a reputed paints company. Later she moved on to promote and run a pharmaceuticals business. A friend proposed that they start a label printing business. Raj found it "most interesting" as it was part of the backward integration for her pharmaceuticals business.
That was the beginning for her labels venture Ra Labels at Hyderabad. She has been heading the business for the last decade. According to Raj it was the first flexographic label printing firm in Andhra Pradesh. Today, Renuka has an ambition to increase the investment and become leaders in Andhra Pradesh.
Shaikher Kaishiv of the Delhi-based Krishna Halftone is one of the earliest entrants into the label industry in the 1980s. In recent times he handed over the reign of this company to his daughter, Divya Keshav, the company’s managing director. Keshav is hard-working. Plus she is keen to prove her mettle in a male dominated industry and carry forward the good work done by her father.
In her armoury, she has a post-graduate in marketing and an alumnus of the India School of Business, Hyderabad. She is a recipient of the Rising Talent 2010 Award which was presented to 25 women entrepreneurs below the age of 40, across the globe by the Women Forum for Economy & Society in France. Presently, her company operates from two locations in New Delhi and Noida – and is powered by multiple label presses.
A very special lady is: Priyata Raghavan. After completing her post graduation course from IIM Lucknow, Raghavan joined the FMCG division of ITC Limited, before moving over to Sai Security Printers, a company owned by her father, Vijay Raghavan. Sai had invested in an imported press for producing scratch lotteries. However, a government decision which revised the legislation on lotteries made the Sai family sit up and rethink their long-term strategy.
The growing label segment presented the opportunity and they decided to enter this field. At that point of time Raghavan took over the complete operations of the company in Faridabad. The company has another unit in Bengaluru. Raghavan has lead the company’s label printing operations to profitability and significant presence in high quality label segment.
Sai Security Printers sprung a surprise during Labelexpo 2010 in December by purchasing two Gallus label presses, one for the Faridabad unit and the second one for Bengaluru. Raghavan sees tremendous scope in the growing label industry. She says: "There is a lot of scope for well managed vendors of high-end labels and packaging." She is hoping Sai Security Printers will be a leader, and offer subline levels of services and technical options.
I was attending an industry meet hosted by Roger Pellow, the managing director of the UK-based Labelexpo group in 2008. The meet was intended to promote the next India Label show. In the lobby of Grand Hyatt in Mumbai, I saw Manish Kapoor of Nilpeter in a discussion with a young man. Manish
Kapoor introduced the young man as Santosh Shetty, the managing director of Surface Graphics, a company founded by his father H G Shetty and got involved in the manufacture of cartons.
Santosh was considering purchase of a Nilpeter press. He planned to expand into label production. The venture was to be headed by his sister, Sandhya. A graduate in chemistry and masters in management studies (marketing), Sandhya has spent eight years in research and analysis. She worked on projects which involved government contracts, defence sector in the US and the hospitality sector in India. When her brother discussed the "label idea", her business instincts were aroused.
The yearning to create products that would be decorative, aesthetics and innovation, blossomed. She turned in her papers at her research and analysis job and decided to be a "label girl" from day one.
Labelexpo 2008 transpired during a traumatic time. Mumbai had suffered a dastardly terror attack. The global economy was nose-diving. Sandhya’s new Nilpeter was being showcased at the show in New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan. The confident brother-sister team of Santosh and Sandhya were at the Nilpeter stand interacting with fellow printers, prospective suppliers, and colleagues in the label industry.
The industry discovered a rising star in Sandhya Shetty. Despite the difficult economic scenario, she was determined to do justice to the managing director’s chair that she was occupying in her company, Synergy Packaging. In two years, she and her team produced their first award winning label.
Woman power on the rise
There are other women entrepreneurs but they did not respond to my emails requesting information. This includes: Shweta Sheth, an alumnus of Amherst, Massachusetts, USA, who is actively involved in the day-today working of Primark Labels as a director. Primark is a part of the General Metallisers Group. Then there is Anjali Deshpande, who is the wife of LMAI’s general secretary, Ramesh Deshpande, who in turn is the driving force behind Renu Prints, Aurangabad. Anjali Deshpande has been honoured for her work by the ministry of MSME (Micro Small and Medium Enterprises). Also, there is G Ramesh at S K Labels in Chennai, who has put his daughter in command.
I salute all the above women – and wish them success.
(Harveer Sahni is the managing director at Weldon Celloplast)