Lessons in life and business: Women providing inspiration - The Noel DCunha Sunday Column

The Jury Day for the Women to Watch 2024 will be hosted on 5 March. A new set of stories about women in print and packaging and publishing will emerge. As we ready for the Jury Day, in the fourth and final in the series of the Women Special, we doff our hat to seven wonderful women. Read on....

03 Mar 2024 | By Noel D'Cunha

Anu Bhargava, director for finance and administration at Premier Paper Packaging

As a commerce graduate and an MBA from IIPM, Anu Bhargava has been passionate about finance. She worked for Fabindia as assistant manager for finance for eight years, and after a sabbatical of a few years, Bhargava carried her ideas of finance into the print planet in 2008. Today, she is steering the finance wheels of Premier Paper Packaging.

Premier has been the brainchild of Sanjeev Bhargava, who has been passionate about printing ever since I have known him, says Bhargava. But joining Premier was not an easy decision, she says.

Back then, the manufacturing industry, especially printing, was male-dominated, and dealing with labour was a big ‘no’ for women. Another apprehension to join was the major work change from a white-collar job in a reputed retail brand to a single-owner-driven unit. Last but not least was the fear of carrying arguments and conflict of ideas to the dinner table at home, which could surely wreak havoc in her happy, nuptial life. Bhargava says, “But after a lot of contemplation and encouragement from the family, I decided to give it a try. So with a lot of courage and commitment, I put my best foot forward and entered the printing sector.”

Bhargava's road to success has not been a bed of roses.  The first few years of working were not easy, as she was dealing with a blue-collar workforce that was rigid, with stereotypical mindsets, which needed a lot of convincing and cajoling to adapt to new systems and technology. “After being a month on board, I realised that our printing unit was one of the most anarchic and chaotic workplaces I had ever been to,” she says. “The aversions were not only towards following new rules but also taking commands from a lady with minimal experience in the field.”

However, Bhargava is proud to have learned many valuable lessons along the way that paved the way for her profound professional growth. “My determination and grit paid off. And during the initial few years, I was able to bring about radical changes in the operations as well as the financial systems.”

Bhargava formed a diverse team of designers, production managers, operational heads, and customer service reps who could execute multiple ideas. “Thus, I implemented standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure smooth operations. Our vision was to become a system-driven organisation by adhering to established SOPs.”

Premier saw strong sales growth after implementing new systems. However, over time, sales stagnated due to a lack of coordination and teamwork between departments. “To address this, we brought in experienced professionals and implemented an ERP system, resulting in increased sales by almost 30% in 2022 without expanding capacity or infrastructure,” says Bhargava.

2022 was the best year for Premier. “Our sales have seen a steady growth, and we expect to achieve a 40% increase by the end of FY 2024,” concludes Bhargava.

Manasi Nishant, executive to MD at Letra Graphix

Manasi Nishant joined Letragraphix in September 2021. As part of her diverse experience across various profiles like sales, procurement, HR, and administrative activities, she honed her skills and contributed to Letra Graphix’s success.

Letra Graphix is a top-notch print-packaging service provider based in the city of Ahmedabad. One of Nishant’s crucial roles at Letra Graphix is to be proficient in converting new key accounts into sales, mentoring the sales managers, and ensuring a smooth transfer of ownership with cooperation from each delegation. “I believe this is a vital aspect of any successful business, and I am proud to be part of a company that values its clients and employees alike.”

On the sales front, Nishant has been able to instil confidence in the team. One team member reported that her networking ability enabled Letra to convert 70% of sales pitches to confirmed orders. Letra also got a large number of new clients to Letra’s fold. Nishant says the addition of the new Gallus Labelfire, the hybrid press that combines flexo and digital to enable Letra to produce new types of labels, was the driving force behind this success.

Nirav Shah, the managing director of Letra, is the business leader and has defined “seeing the big picture” as critically important to make decisions that benefit the organisation as a whole. “As part of the team, I have communicated our company’s vision clearly and motivated our team to work towards achieving it. I delegate tasks while still being accountable for the organisation's overall success.”

Early this year, Letra Graphix hosted the first-of-its-kind Label Yatra in Ahmedabad, an event that Nishant oversaw. “The Label Yatra brought together esteemed design agencies from across India and provided a forum for communication between teams from Avery Dennison, Gallus Heidelberg, and Letra Graphix. The event was a resounding success, and I am grateful to have been a part of something that brought so many talented people together.”

Pooja Arora, vice president of procurement and infrastructure at Blinkit

Pooja Arora has been the vice president of the procurement and facilities team at Blinkit for two-plus years. During her tenure, she has managed various projects related to procurement and administration, ensuring that the dark stores, warehouses, and the head office have all the necessary resources. Blinkit is an eCommerce platform with a network of partner stores, including its instant print delivery store.

Arora has been working to fulfil all procurement needs and administrative requirements for the dark stores, warehouses, and head office. She has made a crucial decision to update the packaging used by Blinkit stores for deliveries.

Arora has contributed valuable insights to key sustainability projects, leading to a successful transformation of functionality in Blinkit's packaging. “By understanding and evaluating the needs of both staff and customers, she has worked towards increasing sustainability opportunities,” says Arora.

Despite the increase in plastic packaging, Arora remains committed to making Blinkit carbon-neutral. Progress has been made over the past year with the introduction of sustainable and eco-friendly packaging, such as jute bags, brown paper bags, and recyclable bags. “After careful consideration and instruction, plastic poly bags have been significantly minimised. All the eco-friendly packaging ideas have been successfully implemented at the head office and will be used in all existing and upcoming dark stores in the country” informs Arora.

She shares, "Continuously improving the quality of customer service and experience and nurturing talent is a dynamic process that brings numerous benefits. Personally experiencing the changes and their tangible outcomes has always been thrilling and motivating."

Ramalakshmi Subramanian, SGO Premedia

Ramalakshmi Subramanian has played a critical role in driving the growth and success of the global packaging artwork processing business at SGO Premedia.

Backed by 20 years of global experience, Subramaniam’s objective has been to introduce the Make in India concept for offshoring the global packaging artwork processing business. “My vision is to spread our business to all seven continents within a decade with a small team and a big attitude. Our business is firmly established in India, and we are bringing global business to India.”

The SGO team, which Subramanian helped form in 2020, had a mega-inauguration in January 2021 in India. SGO expanded to the UK in mid-2021, and the business is growing. “As a leader at SGO, I established a flat organisational structure where profiles or designations are only meant to differentiate individual experiences and performances, not their responsibilities,” says Subramanian, who has established SGO in India from a zero base and developing the team size from 3 to 30 globally.

As a result of the perfect team selection, SGO  achieved a turnaround time (TAT) of 250+ SKUs in less than 24 hours without night shifts. “The secret of this achievement is our techie background and the execution of new technologies. We received 0.01% feedback for 10K + SKUs in less than two quarters,” says Subramanian.

She has also driven growth and profitability for key global accounts like Waitrose, Sainsbury, and Tesco Premedia Works by 10% through growth partners. Subramanian has also been tasked with opening a new market segment in the Asia Pacific region – collectively, the brand owners, retailers, and packaging design agencies - with the responsibility of selling interactive and enterprise solutions for brands and converters. “Our next targets are the USA, Canada, LATAM, Oceania, and EMEA,” states Subramanian.

Rupa Deshpande, proprietor of Geekay Print and Packaging

Geekay Print and Packaging, a Bengaluru-based company established in 1995, installing an image-setter for supplying film images. Since the company's inception, its vision has always been clear: to bring in technology that caters to the current demands of the industry. For instance, in 1995, Geekay was the first to set up the image-setter technology using Dainippon Screen (now Screen).

Rupa Deshpande, proprietor of Geekay, says, “Much of the printing industry was dependent on us to obtain these high-quality image films, which were then used by offset and other presses, including giant customers like The Times of India.“ In recognition of introducing such technology into the market, the government of Karnataka awarded Geekay the Most Innovative MSME Award in 1995.

In 2000, Geekay ventured into the digital printing industry and introduced a cash-and-carry model, establishing branches at various locations in Bengaluru. This approach proved successful, especially when most of Geekay's peers needed help maintaining the required cash flow with the credit system. "We prioritised delivering high-quality work, and therefore, we acquired only the best machinery from Canon and HP for our digital print division," says Deshpande.

Next, it was time to venture into offset printing. “We identified that offset printing lacked this cash-and-carry model,” says Deshpande, who then brought in the latest Japanese offset press with an in-house plate making facility. “This combination of having digital print and offset print under one roof was unique in the industry. We were able to cater to both short-run jobs using digital machines and higher-volume jobs using the offset press. By sticking to our cash-and-carry model, we maintained our standard of delivering quality jobs on the same day of approval of the job,” explains Deshpande.

Not being complacent with the setup, Deshpande noticed that the competition was increasing as other printers had started following Geekay’s model. “I saw the label industry in the roll form lacked a short-run business. Thus in 2014, we installed India’s first ever intermittent letterpress technology, the Iwasaki label press from Japan.”

Despite being warned against pursuing this venture due to its slow speed, Despande took the risk as she saw two significant advantages of the Iwasaki press. "Being a small machine, the run was short, so the initial wastage was one-fourth to that of the flexo press, and the second advantage was that the platemaking expense was about half comparatively." These advantages allowed Geekay to cater to the short-run market, do 8-10 jobs per day, and follow a cash-and-carry model that helped it maintain a healthy cash flow.

In 2022, Geekay was awarded the best label unit in the letterpress: wine and spirits category by the Label Manufacturers Association of India (LMAI).

Sampada Hiray, managing director, Madhuraa Print Solutions

The key to success in any field is a combination of ambition, hard work, persistence, sacrifice, and a bit of luck. With this mantra in mind, Sampada Hirey took the first step into the printing world and started transforming her vision of producing high-quality, low-cost solutions to all printing and packaging needs of customers into reality.

In 2015, the young and dynamic Hirey started Madhuraa Print Solution in Nashik.

The printing firm initially started with a two-colour printing machine. Today, it has grown to have a six-colour plus coater machine. The machine comes with all in-built automated facilities that meet the current and future requirements of the industry. In addition to commercial printing and packaging, the firm has expanded its domain to include FMCG, cosmetics, contraceptives, pharmaceuticals, frozen food packaging, blister cards and coats, stationery packaging cartons, and more. Recently, Hiray has ventured into the domains of print and digital media by launching the daily newspaper Loknama, FM channels Radio-Miit and RADIO-Mast, and a garment manufacturing industry.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Hirey's leadership has led Madhuraa Print Solutions to solid growth. The company's client list has increased from 10 to 300. “After studying and analysing the requirements of this industry, we found that the main struggle originated from the need to deliver the requirements. "The key process and solution to these issues has always remained the same. Only the implementation needs to be perfect to achieve the desired outcome. In this case, the ultimate lesson was to focus on delivering what we produced. We adopted protocols, and adhered to timelines, and continuously developed our skills," states Hirey.

Hiray is also known for her philanthropic work through an NGO, Madhuraa Women Empowerment And Welfare Trust (Madhuraa Trust) dedicated for woman empowerment. She has been conferred with many prestigious awards for her outstanding achievements, such as  Maharashtra Ratna Puraskar-2023 for Madhuraa Print Solutions; a doctorate from the Institute of Entrepreneurship And Management Studies (IEMS) for her contribution in the field of printing and packaging; Emerging Entrepreneur Award 2021; Power Women 2021 Award by Dainik Bhaskar Group; and Brilliance in Business Award 2021 from Zee 24 Taas, for innovation in the field of printing and packaging.

Siddhi Shah, CEO, Printstop

She was ranked 1 in her BE (Computer Science, Mumbai University) but chose not to pursue the traditional path of a master's degree; instead, Siddhi Shah earned CISA (Certified Information Systems Auditor) certification with her final BE and took up a job in a small time IT Audit firm immediately.

From there on, Shah worked in the US for a couple of years practising process consulting and audits before she, along with her husband, returned to India to start two ventures - Printstop and Drums (the company that owns Epigamia and Hokey Pokey brands).

As the CEO of Printstop, Shah’s current goals are clear – to grow Printstop to Rs 100-crore in the next three years while building the leadership team to drive future operations and giving her best as a "Mother to her 11-year-old twins".

To achieve her goal, Shah finds that there are four prime pillars to focus on in the phase of digital business growth. The first pillar is strategy. For any business to be successful, a smart strategy is imperative. Shah leads her team to understand their customers' requirements and handcrafts the best strategies that revolve around them. “We have a core team of 11 members, which we call the strategy executors,” says Shah.

The next pillar is The ‘Guiding Principle’ for the year, establishing a major milestone the company aspires to achieve. “It entails evolution and change in attitude, habits and processes,” says Shah.

The third pillar is the goals framework. This ensures Printstop strikes a balance between building a strong foundation (process and people), achieving what is currently needed (financial) and taking important initiatives for the future (expansion).

The last pillar is bimonthly town halls. Shah explains, “The mission statement, guiding principle and the goals are reiterated at every townhall. The main objective is to openly share the progress (good or bad) to build trust, alignment and transparency.”

Shah states, “We intend to challenge the norm and build offerings and solutions that add value to the customer.”

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