Adaptability, optimism, fearlessness

After eight years in India, Guenther Keppler, general manager customer service at Heidelberg India bids adieu to "this incredible country" in an eMail interview with Ramu Ramanathan

21 Mar 2013 | By PrintWeek India

You have visited many successful print firms. Most of these share key characteristics. What are they?
What I would title successful is the ability to develop a technical standing and an esteemed branding. Those who cope with the technical challenges and develop solutions on their own, rather than blaming or depending on others to solve their problems will sustain. Those who are not able to develop a set of proprietary skills are easily replaceable. Unfortunately the latter once are in the majority.

Do you see shared qualities in the leaders at the Indian print firms, whatever their different personal styles? 
Most of our fellow printers still neither control their working capital well nor maintain a proper job flow or material management. By just visiting the facility or workplace, irrespective of whether it is established or new, one can easily identify the character the owner represents. The top leaders are fully aware of their strengths and weaknesses. While taking risks, they do not defend their current deficiencies and are constantly evolving.
Which according to you are the success stories in India? Why have they been successful? 
Not having invested my money in a printing press and running the same, my answers will sound theoretical or from a teacher’s desk. And though it is an apt question, I would need an evening seminar to discuss it.
What is “risk taking”? The ability to risk accelerating revenue declines if they fail? Or sticking their neck out by creating a vision and being proven wrong?
From my experience of observing and listening, I can say that successful printers exactly know what they do and why they do. Whether they take more risk or less risk is not the decisive factor. It largely depends on the surrounding economical climate and the internal situation. Systematic and stringent analysis, process assessment and the right conclusion is the key and an art. Nature of risk is driven by curiosity and/or desperation. Someone who is not curious does not take risk. Someone who is not desperate to improve or survive some situation does not take risk.
How important is technology in these success stories? How prepared are Indian firms to take advantage of technology?
Technology certainly is one of the important success factors just like operator skills, organisation and financial control are. I take the liberty to generalise especially in the field of pre-press and sheetfed printing: Except a small number of outstanding printers, most neither utilise the invested equipment properly nor do they fully explore and employ the features and functions of their machinery. It makes little sense to have state-of-the-art equipment if you do not fully exploit its potential. At the same time, if there is a skilled operator, a technically sound team, they may manage to get good results even without the latest technology.
They say most successful firms create a small bit of experimentation on a daily basis. Have you seen interesting experiments on the shopfloor of an Indian print firm?
A printer in Delhi installed a common A2 press four years ago and experimented to utilise it for UV. He is successful and has carved a niche for himself. In Kolkata, I met an artist who experiments with hot and cold foil over-printing, creating a unique stand. A folding box printer in Mumbai plays the piano of UV printed foil laminated substrate in a high production speed without fail, where most others struggle and complain. Likewise, a printer in Hyderabad who is a genius in pre-press colour separation creates a high standard to be matched by others. There are others with absolute lean material flow and shortest throughput between order confirmation and dispatch of final printed product with almost zero material stock. There are many heroes out there, however, we need more of them.
If I forced you to pick the most important single lesson you took away from the eight years in India...
I do not know if I can articulate my biggest realisations from India since they are a tad indescribable, like a feeling than a thought and yet immensely important. In best of words, I take with me the “Indian-Spirit” and I can say that I stay influenced by it forever. I have travelled the world, lived in various countries and I can draw distinct comparisons where India stands out in terms of its survival instincts, enthusiasm and positively.
On one hand, I see the lack of proper systems, less transparency, inadequate education, poor infrastructure, pollution, climatic challenges and many other factors that make it hard for people and on the other hand, their intelligence, positive attitude and strong inner self, compensates it all and they eventually emerge winners. The good out-numbers the bad.
The successful lot doesn’t waste time complaining or blaming external situations, they rather devise their own original ways to solve the problems they are in. Indians I feel, have this innate quality of being creative as well as optimistic. Some of them may not remember to utilise this natural talent but then they always have it at their disposal if they want.
The never-give-up attitude is contagious and a big problem is – at times – welcomed with a smile or a sparkle in the eye.
Look at Indian engineers for example, they can do almost everything and do not fear challenges. However, when it comes to serial production it seems that my friends somehow lose interest. Look at a lot of businesses which have started from the scratch with no prior knowledge of the industry. They are doing considerably well. In day to day life of individuals, there could be many depressing, dark elements, yet they smoothly overcome it all with their flexibility, warmth and glowing courage.
Perhaps, adaptability, optimism and fearlessness are my greatest lessons from India.