KC Sanjeev: The Fountainhead of India’s ‘Binding Revolution’

From building India’s first perfect binding machines to designing components for the historic Mangalyaan mission, K C Sanjeev’s entrepreneurial journey of 25 years has changed lives of many people and inspired the young generation to follow his footprints, writes P S Rajan of Print Miracle.

14 Jan 2015 | By PrintWeek India

I was to meet KC Sanjeev at a Trivandrum hotel for an interview,  but the venue was changed as he was taking rest because of a sprained leg. “Please come and meet me at my home, I am sending my car to bring you to my home,”  Sanjeev informed me.  I was picked up from my hotel by  Sajith Kumar, Sanjeev’s confidante who also looks after Welbound’s marketing in Kerala.

Sajith took me to Sanjeev’s residence at Jawahar Nagar, a cozy residential area in Trivandrum.  Despite being on a rest bed he was ready to welcome me at the front door. That’s Sanjeev! He never wastes a single minute and continues to work  even if he was on the hospital bed.

“Time is precious; I am using my time to rest for this interview!”, Sanjeev said.  Well, he has always made useof time well to move up. That’s how a small factory set up to produce a simple post-press machine grew up to become India’s pioneering post-press machine manufacturing firm – Intimate Machines.

His success as an entrepreneur is the saga of a passionate man who wanted to provide a living for people and create wealth. It’s a success story of an enthusiastic, hardworking person who had a dream. From his early 20s he had  the burning ambition to establish his own business empire and vision to achieve it. But Sanjeev’s parents thought different. They feared he was "mad" when he chose to be an entrepreneur.

A Diploma holder in Mechanical  Engineering from the Central Institute of  Technology, Madras (now Chennai), he decided against  the plush government job that awaited him. His father NK Charles, was  working as a manager at the IG office and mother Baby Kamalam, who is now 85, had reasons to worry because, by the late 1970s, the ghost of unemployment was looming large over India.

Sanjeev’s passion was elsewhere. His heart used to beat to the rhythm of a small noisy press owned by his uncle at Neyyatinkara, a sleepy town not far from  Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram. He would help his uncle manage the  press and try his hands on repairing  the Swift printing machines – the  first Indian-made offset machines. It didn’t take much time for the news to  spread that Sanjeev’s quick and deft  hands worked magic on the machines. Government printing presses in Kerala, when they encountered trouble, stopped  waiting for the Swifts servicemen to arrive from Bombay. Sanjeev was happy to service the machines for free. Travelling to and fro in government cars and sumptuous meals were remuneration enough. Later on, Swift was only happy to appoint this young man as their sales  and service person for Kerala.

In another decade’s time, Sanjeev started his own press after buying an old machine and refurbishing it himself. It was then that he decided to go to New Delhi to see a factory that makes  printing machines. The owner of the firm displayed some running models, but  was reluctant to take him to the actual factory. After much insistence, a curious  Sanjeev was taken to the factory – a  small garage!  “I asked myself. If he can make printing machines from a garage, why can’t I do something similar,”  said Sanjeev who returned with the zeal to build India’s first perfect binding machines.

Sanjeev’s vision that started from a humble garage in Thiruvananthapuram in 1989 by building  a perfect binding machine prototype has today grown to the 1000-employee  strong Intimate Machines, a firm that became world famous with its brand ‘Welbound’.

Today the brand Welbound has  become a synonym for perfect binding  machines. Like people say Xerox for a photocopier machine, or JCB for an earthmover. “I have heard press owners saying ‘we have a Welbound-made in Chandigarh, Welbound made in Bengaluru, so and so forth… which  means they have a ‘perfect binding  machine made by a Chandigarh-based  company, or a Bangalore-based  manufacturer. I am happy to hear such talk,” Sanjeev says with smile.

Sanjeev has four factories now  – Intimate Machines (Trivandrum);  Impel Machines (Chengannur); Print  Finish Equipments (Thodupuzah); and  Prism Castings (Coimbatore), where casting works for the binding machines are done. 

Does Intimate Machines have a monopoly in selling binding machines in  India? “I won’t say it’s a monopoly, but I must say around 65-70% perfect binding machines sold in India is Welbound,” Sanjeev says. “Press entrepreneurs have complete trust on our machines. For the last 25 years, they have used our machines and they know how much we value our customers. From our side, we have continued to make perfection on our machines and give prompt service to the customers.” 

It’s a matter of pride for Kerala  that we have a market leader in postpress  machines in the state. “If you ask me about our market share in Kerala,  I would say, in the state, there are only five or six machines which are not  Welbound,” Sanjeev said, which means, 99% of binding machines in Kerala are Welbound.“We also export Welbound  machines to many countries – especially  to the African, Asian and some European countries. Around 15% of our production is exported.”

The beginning of Sanjeev’s journey  as an entrepreneur was not a cakewalk.  “I made the first perfect binding prototype when India had very few such  machines, those too imported. My friend  N Kumar, who did the drawings for the  machine, offered his car shed,” Sanjeev shared fond memories of his struggling days. During the day Sanjeev would manage his press and run the servicing business for Swifts machines. After 7pm, he and Kumar would work on the first  prototype that took more than a year  to be developed. Till then books were sewed and a person could finish binding only 50 books of around 300 pages in a day. His first four machines, which  pumped up the output, had ready buyers, but they had complaints.

“We would spend all our time servicing the sold machines,” said Sanjeev.  Within a couple of months, Sanjeev  had rectified the faults in the machines and developed new models. He replaced all the four machines free of cost. “Today, people would call it a strategy. But for me, it was just caring for the customer,” Sanjeev says with a smile.

The customer loyalty he has earned has ensured the export of hundreds of ‘Welbound’ brand machines  to run in Asian, African and European countries. The company sought places outside India and to the rest of the world in its early years itself. Sanjeev recalled his good old days with his late friend Kumar together with whom he had embarked on this  journey. His passing away in 1996 is still  a painful memory to Sanjeev. Kumar’s son Kishore Kumar, however, joined the company as director of production, in 1997 and his contribution towards the company’s further progress is commendable.  Now Intimate Machines is entering into its 25th year in 2015.

What Sanjeev is planning to present the industry on  the occasion of reaching a milestone?

“We are a pioneer in the field of post-press equipment and we have always made innovations and introduced new  machines in India. Next year we will present the industry a ‘gathering-cumbinding  machine’, first of its kind in India. It will be a workhorse that will produce 4000 books in an hour, and  will simultaneously do gathering and  binding,” Sanjeev announced.

For Sanjeev’s contributions, the  industry has honoured him with several  accolades. In 1993 he received the ‘Outstanding Small Scale Entrepreneur  Award’ from the president for his efforts toward import substitution and revolutionizing the printing industry in India. He received that award the  following year as well. It was a personal journey of innovation and challenges for Sanjeev in an industry that was heavily dependent on expensive foreign machines.

“I sold  machines at  Rs three lakhs at a time when foreign companies sold automated post  press machines of the same quality and output at Rs 15 lakhs,” said Sanjeev, who has also won India’s first Print Ratna Award for post press innovation in 2014. The award was instituted by All India Federation of Master Printers, New Delhi, for the first time this year. The other two recipients were industry giants Manugraph for manufacturing and TechNova for consumables.

The accolades he has won, including awards from the central and  state governments for entrepreneurial Best Entrepreneur Award by Kerala State Industrial  Development Corporation (2011) innovation, and from many other professional bodies, are the fruits of dedication, hard work and the vision to offer solutions to problems.

Sanjeev receiving the “Print Ratna Award”fro the AIFMP president Ashokan

Sanjeev receiving the “Best Entrepreneur Award” by Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (2011) from Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy

K C Sanjeev receiving “Outstanding Small Scale Entrepreneurs Award” (State First) for the year 1993 from President of India

The state award for 'Outstanding Entrepreneur' (2005-06); “Best Entrepreneur Award” by Kerala State Industrial Development  Corporation (2011) are some of the  many accolades he received in 25 years of his entrepreneurial journey.  Sanjeev dedicates the success of his enterprise to the entire Intimate team. He also credits the expansion to P Sajith, marketing professional who joined the  company in 1992 and based in Mumbai to look after Intimate’s countrywide marketing. Sajith set up offices in all the metro cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkatta and went on to promote the company abroad.

The company soon started getting recognition world over. He showcased Intimate Machines at  various fairs and exhibitions like Drupa, which is the largest printing equipment exhibition in the world, held every four to five years in Dusseldorf, Germany. The machines won accolades at Drupa and various other exhibitions  including Ipex in London. 

“My employees are like my family  members. I treat them as equals; whenever I am there in the factory, I eat the same food my staff members are eating. I have great faith in them and they reciprocate with their loyalty,” Sanjeev says with passion.  Sanjeev has not just been selling  machines. He has helped his customers  grow from small to medium and then range of machines helps a small  printer to choose a machine that suits  his budget.

The increase in output  helps business growth and enables the  customer to graduate to a bigger post  press machines. “Customer growth has been my growth,” says this entrepreneur who believes in the following mantra of growth: low ownership cost, quality product, affordable cost, prompt delivery  and efficient service.  

Attention to details
But beyond the business success, Sanjeev’s import substitution and post press innovation has influenced not  just the printing sector. As his business  completes 25 years in 2014, he received  a letter from the Government of India, signed by Arun Kumar Sinha, who heads the directorate of printing. “I do  not hesitate to record that post-printing  machines have revolutionised the  Indian printing industry in delivering  better quality finished products and  significantly improving productivity. 

This has enabled the Government  institutions, specially, the utilization  of equipment have done wonders in  bringing out large quantity textbooks  with quality and as per schedule,” the letter continues, “Thus, I confidently  say that your contribution to the society  cannot be forgotten for long years to  come.” Viswaprasad, Intimate Machine’s  R&D-leader, is an integral part of the  team and Sanjeev describes him as the  “trouble-shooter.” He burns the midnight  oil to solve problems. His attention to details and hard work has helped the company build India’s first developed PUR system.

He has gone on to design many of its new products too and is working towards designing more to come.   

Research and Development at Intimate Machines
One of the first big clients to benefit  from Sanjeev’s post press innovation was the Maharashtra Textbook Corporation. His machines that ensured  binding of upto 4,000 textbooks an hour from 50 in a day ensured prompt textbook delivery in schools. This put an end to the routine of students receiving  textbooks only later into the school year. Following Maharashtra, many other state  governments followed the way. Today, Sanjeev is on the path to  perfect the revolution he started.

By  2015, on reaching the milestone of 25 years an entrepreneur, he is all set to come up with a solution to integrate standalone offline post press machines - gathering, perfect binding and the three-side trimmer. Only a few countries  have developed a single online system to achieve the integration.

As part of his diversification plans Sanjeev has entered an exciting area, Aerospace. Components of highly sophisticated designs, made at Sanjeev’s Intimate Machine are part of the historic Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan projects.

Components for the Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan projects

 Intimate Machine, Thiruvananthapuram

Sanjeev showed me the appreciation letters he received from the ISRO authorities for being a part of the prestigious mission. “Printing as an industry has almost reached a saturation point. Hard copy of a book needs binding. Because of e-reading, hard copies of many books such as telephone directory, reference books, encyclopedia and even newspapers and magazines will one day cease to exist, if not in the immediate future. When printing goes down, binding also will have less scope. So, I am slowly diversifying into aerospace,” says Sanjeev.

This entrepreneur is still innovating. He is introducing PUR glue that would further strengthen the binding process.  But the glue has to be applied without it coming into contact with the atmosphere.  “We cannot dwell on problems, solutions  have to be found.” Asked about competition, he said, “If  we focus on our growth, there is no need  to worry about competition.”  That is a piece of wisdom: “Focus on yourself, not others.” 

(Grateful acknowledgement to KMPA's bi-monthly magazine PRINT MIRACLE where the above feature originally appeared)