Reprographic and Printing Services: Life and belief of a woman printer

Ramu Ramanathan spends time at an unusual firm and finds out how the foundation was laid down by the indefatigable JP Vasandani and what printing means to Shobha Subramaniam.

24 Aug 2011 | By Ramu Ramanathan

It’s perhaps one of the most tidy print firms in the city of Hyderabad. The firm houses 10 Swift mini-offset plus three Orient web offset presses (two with a 578mm cut-off and one with a 508mm cut-off size). Though there are hundreds of presses in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad who produce b/w printing, Reprographic and Printing Services has carved a unique niche for quality printing in the market.

One reason is: Shobha Subramaniam, who heads the unit. This is a heartening sign. In increasing numbers, women are fighting long-standing prejudices and are working their way to the top of companies or starting their own businesses. Be it: Amila Singhvi at IPP (Noida) and Rani Joshi at V Joshi & Sons (Pune); Priyata Raghavan at Sai Packaging (Faridabad) and Sandhya Shetty at Synergy Pack (Silvassa); Akhila Bodduluri at Caxton India (Hyderabad) and Prabha Ramachandran at Ace Data Prinxcel (Coimbatore).

Subramaniam is different from the above list since she is not part of the traditional owner-family. And so, even though women have made great strides in the print world in the last decade, women from all income classes are still too often discouraged by family members from having careers that infringe too much on family life.

After a series of jobs which included executing the project of installing and commissioning air cooling plants to movie theatres, Subramaniam met JP Vasandani, the proprietor of Reprographic in 1985.

She recalls: "The interview was interesting. JP asked me to proof a document that he was proof reading. He told me that it would take five minutes to finish the proof reading." Subramaniam spotted one mistake in the word ‘continuous’ and as JP says, "She ‘continues’ to work with Reprographic."

Subramaniam stepped into the press. Interestingly enough, a few years later JP gave her total responsibility following a labour issue. She recalls those days in the early nineties, "I took decisions. Sometimes they were not the right decisions. But I had JP’s backing. He guided the team."

A quantum leap of sorts
A quick look around Reprographic indicates the pedigree of work. IEEE, Hyderabad is our customer for the last 20 years. IIT Hyderabad and Alliance Française are the other clients.  Reprographic regularly designs and prints the material required for IEEE’s annual seminars. These include papers presented before the seminar and the proceedings after.

IEEE is considered as one of the best organised engineering associations in the US and in the world. "The proceedings for international seminar are printed as per IEEE’s international style sheet and specifications," says Vasandani.

JP points out that Reprographic was established in 1983 with an electronic typewriter, a cut-and-paste table, one manual photocopying machine to make a foil master and a Swift 150 offset press at a tiny location in Secunderabad. It continues to operate from Secunderabad and over the years has created a women-friendly environment. "Over 40% of our 50+ employees are women," says Vasandani.

When opportunity knocks
As Subramaniam says: "The challenge has been to train the staff (all uniformed and cared for) and make them understand things like quality standards and page margins. Once they become conscious, then retaining them is an onerous task. For our kind of jobs, I need to have sessions with the team. More so in the finishing department. Another challenge is to feed the machines throughout the year."

Subramaniam joined Reprographic in February 1985 as a professional employee and though she started as a typist on an electronic typewriter, the typewriter was used as a substitute typesetter for composing text. She has since climbed up the ladder to become the general manager of the firm.

Subramaniam takes all the operational decisions, while Vasandani involves himself with decisions on capital equipment, negotiations with customers and finalising annual increments. "She signs all the cheques, payments to suppliers, salaries to employees, all utility bills and statutory payments. The only cheque I used to sign is her cheque," chuckles Vasandani. He adds, "now even that is transferred online."
One step ahead
Vasandani has created a culture of print quality. "We use the best ink though there were – and are – many cheap inks available in the market. We use good quality blankets." The firm started a concept (in 1984) of control sheet where apart from the print run quantity, the margins for each job is specified. Changing the blankets as and when required; servicing the machines to maintain the quality. From day one this system has been followed. In addition, the staff had regular breaks, regular supply of tea plus rights for the employees and staff.

Today, Reprographic deploys 75 to 200 masters per day. This excludes the 20 to 35 litho plates per day. It converts between 50-100 tonnes of paper per month, mostly supplied by the customers.

Problems galore
Subramaniam states: "I feel government policies and rules are not friendly nor co-operative. We have to deal with all kinds of government officials who come for inspection. There are so many single-colour jobs in the government and national banks. They are not bothered about print quality and their rates are low. Printing of some of the textbooks supplied by the Government for the schools is atrocious."

A woman with many qualities
When we asked Subramaniam, if there is any difference between men and women in a printing press, she says: "Yes, there is a difference. Honouring delivery commitments is crucial. In most presses, there are two to three shifts. In some presses there is a 12-hour working concept. In our society, in the family the women plays a key role for household chores, taking care of children and elders. In case of ill health for a family member, the woman is expected to escort them to the doctor. She is expected to take leave till they have recovered. Plus women who return home late in the evening are unsafe in our male-dominated society."

She adds: "Gandhiji once said, the day a woman walks without fear even in the midnight, that is the day the freedom has arrived in India. Even 60 years after Independence, this remains a mere dream."

Subramaniam continues: "Sometimes the commitment for deliveries gets effected. This is one area, where women lag and the men score. Also if any heavy parts has to be lifted in the machine, a woman finds it difficult."

All this does not deter her. She says: "I’m keen to invest in a CTP system; an automated finishing line; and become the number one B/W printer in Andhra Pradesh." Even as she is supervising a Bhagavad Gita, pocket edition job which is destined for Canada, she adds: "I hope, we’ll be an all-women press. Wherein every woman in the press can operate all systems. And interact with the section heads; answering emails; proof-read and check non-standard jobs; give quotations; order paper for the jobs apart from the regular jobs; talk to the clients, monitor the deliveries."

In other words: a complete woman printer.

Founded in 1983
Location Secunderabad in Andhra Pradesh
Specialty Printing and binding book work; design and layout of brochures, catalogues, flyers, in-house magazines
Equipment A contact printer to make negatives; two platemaking machines; ten Swift mini-offset machines, three Orient single web offset machines; six guillotines; eight wire stitching machines; one perfect binding machine; a DTP set-up; a Xanté high resolution laser printer to make masters and film
Staff 50+ employees, of which 40% are women

Vasandani: "The uncommon print proffesional"

Subramaniam supervises a job on one of the 10 Swifts

Web offset unit at Reprographic and Printing Services

Click here to read "Why I love small sheetfed offset" by Sachin Shardul