M.G. Ittan, director of AST Group Of Companies in conversation with  Prashant Chaurasia reveals his endeavours for  transforming a single machine self-employed venture into a grand success of 280+ employees with over 2000 machines.

ack in 1982, a civil engineer from Kochi, India, M.G Ittan landed on the shores of an extreme development potential area UAE, and took his first job with a UK based architectural and consultancy firm Rice Perry Ellis and Partners.
 Evoked by the thought of how contractors depended on printers for blueprinting Ittan says, “I bought a second hand semi dry Océ machine from Al Futtaim Engineering and worked on it after my job hours, in the evenings.” From this humble beginning, Ittan now has over 2000 machines and employs 284.
“Inspite of being a civil engineer, I learned the basics of the printing segment while working single-handedly on the machine, and as the orders started pouring in, I decided to take the plunge and establish my own printing unit. I started with blue printing /diazo printing/ammonia printing and soon added a large format plotter to my inventory moving on to large format copiers from Ricoh.”
Ittan says his growth had been clients driven. Once a customer asked him, “Can you do the drafting services for us?” And with an obvious reply he added the CAD services, making drawings using Auto CAD operators back then he had 86 operating on CAD which has gradually reduces to a mere 12 CAD operators now due to the recent market fallout.
Even so, Ittan footholds to the point that they were never hit by recession because they were providing what was in demand during those fiscal years, ASTs ‘Scanning & Copying services’ , “We were using revenues generated from our over growing scanning & copying business during these times. As a lot of documentation was required  by many companies. So, thats how we maintained our balance. Added we had digital printing which I believe never went through such downfalls.”
Ittan moved his business strengths to adjust to the contours of the dynamic markets and help from any kind of  hibernation, like his move from blueprinting to digital printing, the recent ‘one of a kind’ (charge on usage) equipment leasing, also, personalised printing and the print on demand with reprographics and CAD services. “That is the reason why AST is fearless to any recession,” he adds.
Ittan believes in success through hard work, “My staffs hardwork and well being with my customers satisfaction are parameters for my success,” “One should know the industry, devote themselves and work hard towards the mutual goals.” Ittan who still keeps his first printed jobs in his office cherishes the most memorable moment, “When I got my first printed finished book from our Canon Image Press It felt great, I can never forgrt that in my life.”
Talking about Industry’s supply-demand balance Ittan believes, “Offset maybe has a supply over demand situation but digital still needs ‘more presses’ in the region.” He continues, “The only problem with the regional industry is the advent of the technology is very slow, for example some press I saw working in Singapore, India, Germany in huge numbers are not even singularly available at presses here.  We need to keep updated and bring in new technologies faster for more growth.”
Ittan believes that the credit policies in the region are ‘flexible and very poor’ in nature compared to various Asian and European nations and Government needs to make alterations if required even implement laws like Chapter 11, Chapter 7 to help the businesses and the creditors, and maintain healthy economics.
Ittan has maintained his own industrial traditions and says, “Making good relations and keeping on to your words will always give you more work or goodwill, like delivery on time, no payment dues to supply etc. Our customers can come sit with our graphic designers and walk out with the final work sample in hand,” he says.
Pointing out the industrial difference in Europe and Gulf, ittan believes, “They have job and orders ready before due date, without any lags and delays of any sort,” he blames it on the cultural mix and different naturalistic behaviour on the workers front with over demanding clients in Middle East.
AST expanded in Qatar and have increasing number of printshops in Doha & with further expansion in KSA this year Ittan sounds optimistic about h his future ventures. AST has also won appreciation for bagging the scanning job for UAE’s Society of Engineers documentation registration. With a diet for technology Ittan works for 16 hours a day and is looking forward for Nano technology to incorporate in print as well as 3D printing in years to come.