Women in Print: Medha Virkar

Medha Virkar who heads Kaleido Graphics is also the current president of Mumbai Mudrak Sangh and has been a committee member with Bombay Master Printers Association (BMPA)

28 Mar 2014 | By PrintWeek India

How did you enter the printing industry?
I had long innings working as executive assistant to CEOs in multinationals. I was one of the best paid in the field. Job satisfaction was more important to me than monetary benefits. I realized, I had all the qualities of an entrepreneur- I did not have a 9-5 mindset, I never said this is my work and this is not. I kept signing authoritatively because I had the guts to take the full responsibility.

That was when a well wisher introduced me to a government organization which needed some brochures to be conceptualised, designed and printed. I said I will do it.  It was hilarious, neither the client nor I knew what was to be done. But they felt I was an expert in the field and I let that misconception remain.  I started talking to people and things started to crystalise.  My client was, in a way, paying for my education which was, possibly, a business opportunity for me. At the same time I was convinced that my client should not suffer because of my lack of knowledge. So I did intensive research on the job which finally surpassed his expectations.

Did you have any mentors along the way?
Of course, I have been very lucky in life, meeting the best people on way.  They have given me timely help and advice. My chartered accountant who is no longer around, whose sound advice I shall be ever grateful for.  My brother, a capable entrepreneur, has been ever willing to share his experiences with me. My husband, who is also my partner, is my mentor. I have learnt the offset printing process as one would learn in a special tuition. Last but not the least I get to learn from my son and my daughter-in-law who are very capable individuals in their own right with a good education background. So the mentoring continues...the day it stops it would be time to retire, I guess!

What’s your forte?
In any job, I visualise the likely problems that can come up while working on it. I intuitively sense areas of potential mistakes and work towards avoiding them.  Communication is my forte and I believe in giving clear written instructions so that we avoid unnecessary fire fighting later. My forte is applying myself to a job in its absolute totality and has handled several such projects.  I am good with setting systems for admin and finance.

How do you begin your day? What is your daily routine?
I plan the day for my staff so that they will allow me to work without interruption. I always have a list of things to do for the day/week and work towards completing that during the day. I am very particular about keeping in touch with the seniors in the family, however busy I may be. So the day is a mix of my professional and personal life with time for everything - music, theatre, talks.

Do you interact with print production supervisors? If yes, how frequently? What do you normally discuss?
I love the sound of machines as there is some rhythm about it which tells you all is well! I do look into production as and when required to fill in any gap. But my prime responsibility is finance, accounts, taxation and compliance, administration, banking etc.

Do you have any sales strategy? Anything in particular to motivate your sales & marketing team.
I have no miracle sales strategy which I can share with experts in the field. I just feel you’ve got to be there at the right time and at the right place to get the work.  The most important thing is that a client must remember you years after your first sales call. That recall is important even if he has not given you big business.

Just as it is not good to depend on a few customers for a large part of your turnover, so also, it may not be advisable to depend on one or two industry segments for your entire turnover.

I also think that the jobs you print are your biggest sales team.  Sometimes you get work without stirring out of your office, purely based on your past performance.

I believe, even when you are not the largest press, you must have, and you must believe that you have, something different to offer your customer for which he becomes, yours faithfully. It could be creativity, efficiency, commitment to schedules, professional ethics, honesty, maturity to understand the final use and workability of the product to be produced etc.

Your corporate philosophy.
My corporate philosophy is no different from my personal philosophy. Work for the best, prepare for the worst, and take what comes. 

I like to run my enterprise like a trust or an institution. I have no personal financial ambitions. The ambition is for my company and its people. My people are my extended family. They take my flowers and brick bats with fortitude.

I have always given a long rope to girls wanting to make a career with us. I have tremendous respect for the middle class woman for the way she multi tasks and bends backwards for the family and office commitments. Running an enterprise efficiently is as simple or complex as running a home and family efficiently. 

My funda: Enjoy success but keep the complacency out of it.  Accept failure and work on continuously improving the performance and systems in the most cost efficient way. With 25 years in the business, I still have not understood the nuances of what works and what doesn’t. 

I believe in answerability towards my customers, my vendors, my service providers. Sometimes I feel I have more loyalty to my vendors for putting up with my delayed payments.

Do you feel women shy away from this industry? If yes, your views.
I don’t see any reason why women should shy away from the print industry. May be in the area of production where working in shifts is involved, women may find it difficult to manage the commitments towards work and home.

I believe that equality of the sexes comes out of losing our sex consciousness. I am happy to head MMS as the elected representative of my fraternity because my people believe I have certain level of inclination and competence for doing public work. I am not a president because we want to break any records that we now have the first woman president. And I am more happy that I am treated as one of them and not as a special someone, being a lady. That, to me, is the essence of democracy.

What are the main challenges for a printer in India?
This is a much asked question but you may not get a much different answer from me. The challenge is rising input and conversion costs and falling cost realisation driven by over-capacity. That leaves little budget to upgrade.

Also, ever since technology is available to amateurs, you have files coming to you from half or quarter baked designers and photographers. These files are not print ready or print worthy. The client thinks he has given you the file to print. What you do after receiving the file and the work you do on this file to bring the job to perfection goes unnoticed or unpaid. 

This is when I feel we printers are karmayogis. We do our work to perfection for the happiness it gives us, not expecting any returns. Karmayoga is great at a personal level. Business cannot survive just with that noble attitude. We need margins for our survival. There are very few clients who appreciate our behind-the-scene input as today everyone knows everything and there is little respect shown to skill which comes after learning, eating, breathing, living, sleeping, embracing print for decades together. 

Are you involved with a trade printing association? Or have you set up your own peer group to meet periodically to talk about resources, challenges, etc faced by our industry.
I have worked with the BMPA and MMS as managing committee member, as well as office bearer on different posts finally culminating in taking charge as president of MMS. Print industry has given me some of my best friends and colleagues, in fact it has also given me a wonderful husband who, as I said earlier, is my friend, my guru, my colleague, my partner in that order.

What according to you is the future of the printing industry? And what are your aspirations for your press by 2020?
With the present scenario, I cannot think so much ahead. But yes, we would like to continue doing quality work and be known as one of the best in our segment. I prefer to work at a slow and steady pace enjoying life on the way, thereby maintaining my happiness levels.  If I work with extreme high ambitions I may not be able to sustain long innings.   

What do you like about this industry and about your profession?
I love working in this industry because there is no monotony. You have to constantly apply your mind. This industry prepares you for facing life because you sharpen your problem solving abilities.  Since there are so many technological changes and innovation, you need to constantly learn and unlearn. Through print, we can get associated with meaningful social campaigns, social projects, production of good books, spread of education etc.

Can you tell us some interesting memories with regard to some landmark projects you have handled in your career?
There have been quite a few important projects.  But my landmark project was Siddhi - a collection of 12-CDs of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. I am his ardent fan and I was happy that the music company decided to give me the project to handle in totality from concept, photography, designing to printing.  Panditji sang only for me while I directed the photo shoot. I felt I was the most blessed person in the world. I also directed artists to create paintings by explaining the meaning of Siddhi and got this work done from five to six different fine artists and merging the paintings with Panditji’s typical expressions. This project was much appreciated by the client.

(This Feature first appeared in Print Bulletin)