Hima Bindu: The future of Sunitha Graphics - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column
Hima Bindu is unabashed when she says, she’s a chip of the old block. “My parents rose from nothing to something in this great field of printing,” says Bindu, who has taken over the reins of the empire built by her parents and sees a dazzling future. In this conversation with D Nagarjuna, Bindu recalls how her parents had a big impact on her
09 Apr 2023 | By D Nagarjuna
Why did you choose a course in printing?
I chose printing because I knew I was carved out for a profession in printing. I also wanted to prove that I was a chip off the old blocks, as my parents rose from nothing to something in this great field of printing.
You figured among the top rankers in the polytechnic entrance exam. Such top rankers normally do not think of opting for printing technology but rather electronic communication engineering (ECE), mechanical engineering (ME), computer science engineering (CSE) or information technology (IT) in that order. You proved to be an exception.
Let me tell you, I joined the printing profession by choice and not by chance. I joined the prestigious Government Institute of Printing Technology located in Secunderabad. By geographical advantage, the Institute is now owned by the Government of Telangana after Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated. I topped the batch in 2012 and bagged Sitaram Memorial Award, specially instituted for toppers in memory of an eminent journalist D. Sitaram from Telangana.
You then took lateral admission into the Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT)...
There too, I passed with distinction, completing my B.Tech (Printing Technology). During my time at MIT, I figured in the columns of PrintWeek as part of a winner in a quiz competition held in MIT in October 2015.
Bindu: In 2019, my father invested in a Gallus EM 280 because the market demanded labels in reel form increased
But after graduation, you chose to get into business management for your master’s. Why?
Upon completing my Bachelor’s in printing, I completed six years of printing studies. Over a period of time, I realised that in spite of studying a couple of management subjects, both in diploma and degree courses, I needed to focus more on business administration, particularly from the point of communication, finance, marketing and client services and hence the detour to do an MBA rather than master’s in printing.
There must be a more specific reason...
You are right, I thought it would be good to link the theory I studied and the practices following in helping my parents, Sri Sivakumar, my father, and Sunitha Sivakumar, my mother, run the printing business, which they had begun in 1998.
I was keen on bolstering the organisation; so I painstakingly established by my parents and exploring the business side of the expertise I would gain. Hence I proceeded to Melbourne to do my master’s in business administration.
But I must confess that at the end of the day, my appetite to study further, like a master’s in printing, remains.
You said your parents started a printing business in 1998...
The press was started on 16 October 1998 with an Apple computer.
Bindu: “My mother (Sunitha Sivakumar, right) was a typical saha dharmacharini (better half) but later took up the dual role of a housewife and assisted my father in his work. She watched his artistic skills in a printing press and developed an interest in working with him”
It was more like a design studio...
Yes, it’s a unique story. My father Siva Kumar is an artist and a calligraphist from an agrarian Ventrapragada village near Gudivada in Krishna district. These skills were scarce and high in demand as fine artists were few and far in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a skill that was in high demand by offset printers in those days when lithography was in its nascent stages.
Incidentally, he landed in Asia’s best printing press, Pragati Offset. He was picked up to draw 30x40-inch size sheets for poster work, and that way, he not only drew large pictures but also produced one of the finest letterings in various languages.
That is my father’s migration – from an agrarian place to an urban town. Hyderabad was always a welcoming city to one and all. No wonder it is one of the most cosmopolitan and happening places in India.
What did he do with the Apple computer? And what about printing?
He used it to design labels and change the language settings. He used to outsource the printing works initially, as he did not possess printing machines. It was literally a one-man show of designing, marketing and handling clients.
But your mother was a housewife then. How did she enter the business?
My mother was a typical saha dharmacharini (better half) but later took up the dual role of a housewife and assisted my father in his work. She watched his artistic skills in a printing press and developed an interest in working with him.
He trained her in making key sheet layouts. For example, she was asked to cut one plain sheet according to a one-litre label size and keep ‘ups’ on an 18”x23” or 20”x30” job sheet. This way, she tried to figure out how many labels could be had on one sheet for various capacities like one litre, 500ml, 250ml and 100 ml. She continued to replicate this for mono-carton duplex board boxes also.
Strangely, her intelligence put her in making ‘ups’ for labels and jobs that needed to be arranged on a sheet in such a way that there was minimal or no wastage.
So when did your parents establish Sunitha Graphics? What prompted the move?
Since its inception in 1998, Sunitha Graphics has specialised in graphics design and packaging product development. These had to be printed and supplied. Initially, we outsourced the work. Later, we started buying print and converting equipment to bring all activities inhouse.
Which was the first press investment?
It was a screen printing unit. Later, year after year, the press was equipped with a range of finishing machines such as lamination, foiling, die cutting and punching, and folding.
As the business grew, Sunitha Graphics invested in a four-colour offset machine.
Bindu: “After joining the family business in June 2022, I started handling marketing, production and client relations”
Sunitha Graphics transitioned from sheetfed labels to producing them in reel form with investment in a Gallus EM 280...
In 2019, my father invested in a Gallus EM 280 because the market demanded labels in reel form increased. In order to meet our clients’ needs, we had to invest in a flexo press, duly fulfilling quality and production requirements. The EM 280 was a pre-owned kit. Nevertheless, it gave good quality, like a brand new press, without any breakdowns.
There was one change, though. From the day Sunitha Graphics moved to flexo, my mother took charge of other roles, such as accounting, scheduling and production, with my father.
What’s the growth story of Sunitha Graphics?
This one is by chance. My elder sister and her husband were software engineers. Bogged down by the routine and mundane software jobs, they were in search of doing something out-of-the-box. They sought my father’s advice, who suggested they do business that could be linked to Sunitha Graphics.
It catapulted my sister and my brother-in-law to go out and work in an HDPE bottle manufacturing plant for one year. They learnt everything from scratch – from material selection to making the bottle. Their hard work, perseverance, and urge to start something resulted in the birth of Kundan Polymers in December 2018.
Since then, Sunitha Graphics has supplied labels for the bottles made at Kundan Polymers. Both companies are located on adjacent premises.
What is your present role?
After joining the family business in June 2022, I started handling marketing, production and client relations, getting new clients and bringing in changes in packaging products and other printing materials. I continue to do so.
What is your mantra?
I think, unlike the times of my parents, managers of this generation must know every aspect of business from a 360 degree angle, instead of depending on trusted employee/s. This includes identifying clients, suppliers and vendors.
And your route to Sunitha Graphics’ growth?
Presently, we cater to agro-based companies. My hard-working parents have something to boast about with regard to their background.
But as I said, I am a chip off the old block. And without sounding over-ambitious, I want to bring changes to our printing business. And that includes plans for expansion, modernisation, standardisation and professionalism for the 25-year-old Sunitha Graphics.
About the author: D Nagarjuna is a retired HOD, Government Institute of Printing Technology, Government of Telangana; former assistant director, Lok Sabha; former principal, Institute of Printing, University of West Indies; and presently working as assistant professor, St Joseph’s Degree and PG College, Hyderabad. He is also a blogger on allunderthesky.com