Mehul Desai: Challenging times for all businesses - The Noel DCunha Sunday Column

Mehul Desai was reappointed as president of BMPA for the second term during the 46th annual general meet. In his speech, to the members in the audience, he said, "The past one year has been quite an eventful year, if I were to word it mildly. I think, between the way the business is shaping up and what the government has been doing, we have had many surprises coming our way. Starting with demonetisation announced in November in 2016, which hit us out of the blue. Then, more recently, the impleme

29 Sep 2017 | By Noel D'Cunha

Noel D'cunha: Tough 12 months with demonetisation and GST?
Mehul Desai: Indeed. Challenging times for all businesses. The print industry has definitely been impacted. Even before GST became a reality the print fraternity was concerned and at BMPA we did all that we could to ease the anxiety. We have conducted many seminars and knowledge sessions, started a helpline, etc.

Noel D'cunha: How much has it impacted the print trade in Mumbai and around?
Mehul Desai: Once GST was introduced in July, I have seen the business impacted. Lot of orders were on hold as clients were seeking clarity on HSN codes, dispatches were held up as clients were not ready to take delivery without being clear that the HSN used, tax rates applied are correct. Exports too got impacted. So all in all July and August have been very difficult.

Noel D'cunha: Is the market improving? Or is it a bloodbath?
Mehul Desai: Things cannot remain in this situation for too long. It has to improve and we are seeing signs that we are settling down. We have got to accept that GST is a huge change and any change will require time. We have to be patient because in the end I see GST as a change for better.

Noel D'cunha: Early days, but Bhiwandi print cluster project looks interesting. How do you see it unfold by 2020?
Mehul Desai: At BMPA, we are very excited about the Print Park in association with Renaissance. It is a world class project, with the infrastructure to support the print business and its ancillaries. Only the future will tell us how this will unfold but our desire at BMPA is to see a print park which houses small to very large firms, ancillaries to support these firms all in close proximity. We believe this will only lead to progress and am sure the print fraternity too can see the benefits.

BMPA and Renaissance members 

Noel D'cunha: Will partnerships and collaborations work in an industry? Since traditionally these things are fraught with danger ...
Mehul Desai: Collaborations will surely work if the mindset is right. Collaborations need parties involved to be transparent and committed. A collaboration cannot work if one is going to see only benefits for self rather than for the partnership.

Noel D'cunha: As you mentioned in your talk to the PVG students in Pune, you began your career in a sales environment. If you put on your sales hat, what are the things a print firm should do while recruiting for sales staff?Mehul Desai: When recruiting sales staff other than the obvious qualities one must look for two things. One is how persevering the person is. This is very important because in sales you face a lot of rejection. If you allow that to impact your mind you will never succeed. One needs to be mentally very tough. You have to persevere. Hard work is the only guarantee for success. Success may not come when you think it should but it will surely be yours if you keep at it.

Noel D'cunha: Print is very labour intensive. Even with all the modernised kit and technology, it is the nuts and bolts of the business that needs a lot of attention.
Mehul Desai: We printers invest in very expensive kits but hesitate to invest in our people who are running these kits. BMPA in association with PrintWeek India has started SaS which is a training programme of sorts for the workforce. We help them improve their skills and knowledge. Whilst the response to this initiative can be better, we at BMPA are not giving up. SaS is going to expand into a bigger and stronger programme that will not only cover the work force but also the middle management.

Noel D'cunha: What are the things printers should be doing which they are not?
Mehul Desai: Mediocrity is not acceptable in modern times and to excel we will have to invest in our people as we do in equipment.

Noel D'cunha: In Mumbai’s print industry there are three entities; people at the front end, the latest technology in terms of electronics, software and the heavy metal presses, and finally the specialists who are breaking the rules. Which bit is the most exciting according to you? 
Mehul Desai: I feel the combination of software professionals along with specialists who are breaking the rules. They are doing some very exciting work and breaking new grounds for the print industry.

Noel D'cunha: I visited a start-up unit last week which is worth Rs 300-crore The promoters don’t know one end of the press from another, but they have started to introduce an internal apprenticeship scheme. They hire very young people in their twenties and give them experience and training across the whole business – that is everyone from account handlers to production staff. Is this the future of print in India?
Mehul Desai: We need talent and with technology taking centre stage I believe new ideas will give us an edge. This could be one of those. Very interesting concept and I would think it could lead to a lot of talent development.

Noel D'cunha:  In the past ten years or so, at MOS, you have outsourced print, you have sweated your digital presses, you have worked with offset machines, you have handled data, and so on. It has been an unusual learning curve. Which parts would you do differently?
Mehul Desai: Every experience I have had has been worth it and honestly I would not do anything different because each of these experiences has made me see things that I was missing.

Noel D'cunha: Of late, at MOS you are dipping your toe in commercial print. Why so? Whereas once you were choosy and focused on the products that fit your production process.
Mehul Desai: We were always doing commercial printing but our digital and VDP activities were always talked about. We had clients who were using our commercial print capabilities and these clients were high profile, high volume. The work we have done for them has brought us more work. Add to that we have the capacity now due to loss of a few clients so it made perfect sense. Horses for courses. We are getting very exciting work for our commercial division and that has led to more interest in the vertical.

Noel D'cunha: You have a good platform in BMPA’s STB. What do the members feel? Has print become a commodity?
Mehul Desai: All of us at STB do feel that print has become a commodity. A lot of discussions at STB centre around how we can break this and move to better pricing for our products.

Noel D'cunha: We’re in an industry where profit almost seems to be a dirty word – does making good returns cause you problems with customers?
Mehul Desai: We need to accept the fact that we are all working to ensure good returns for our work. No shame in that. I have never shied away from telling this to my customers and I have yet to come across a customer who does not appreciate the fact.

Noel D'cunha: You are also a “student”. You looked at case-studies at IIM. Is it a challenge for print and packaging to be part of the family business format?
Mehul Desai: Not all. In fact, I think most print companies that are doing well are the family business.

Noel D'cunha: I liked one of the things, P Narendra of Pragati said in his STB presentation in the BMPA office. He said, "If you can improve a process by 1% and you’ve got 10 processes then you’ve boosted the total process by 10%." Would you agree? A simple matter of simply by doing small things, well?
Mehul Desai: I agree completely. Simple and makes a lot of sense. 

P Narendra talk at STB

Noel D'cunha: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Mehul Desai: Whatever happens, do not move away from your belief system. It has got you where you are and it will help you get out of problems. Do not abandon your core values because you have problems.

Noel D'cunha: Last question, zero makeready? Myth or reality?
Mehul Desai: Maybe a myth today but way technology is progressing I am hoping for it to become reality sooner than later.