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In conversation with Shilpa Jasani,   Amit Radia - Chief ‘Motivation’ Officer of Atlas Group reminisces about the regional print industry in the eighties and nineties, while cautioning against sharply rising costs

 
Born in Kenya, Radia migrated to the UK in the eighties and took up his first job as an estimator in a printing press. “Within the first six months of taking up my assignment, the production manager of the firm resigned and a lot of his work fell on my shoulders.  Though, I did not have much experience, I was willing to work long hours and soon became quite adept at my job, and as a result the owner of the firm grew to becoming quite reliant on me.  So beginning as an estimator, I moved to sales, admininstration and then manager of the company.

“In the eighties, printing was a manual process.  We used lintotype machines, taking out bromide prints, overlays, and  had artists cutting images manually.  After 9 years in the job, I moved to Dubai. The printing industry then was very different, in its nascent stages. Costing and pricing was amateurish. By now, printing was in my blood and I established my own business within a year of moving to Dubai.  A couple of Rolands, GTO’s and a few small machines made up Atlas in 1994.”

Occupying 6 warehouses in a compound in Garhoud, Atlas   soon outgrew the space and decided to move out of its old premises to construct their own office cum factory premises in Al Quoz.  Atlas now occupies over 100,000 square feet space in IMPZ and Al Quoz.

“We later expanded into magazine printing through investment into webs, 5 and 8 colour machines.  In the mid-2000’s I started attending various seminars on variable data printing in the UK, and came up with the concept of variable printing on the digital web. Soon, we entered into short run newspaper printing and examination paper printing business.”

“We have now divided the group in 6 divisions: Commercial Print, AIR (Atlas Inflight Resources), ACE(Atlas Content for Education), APM (Atlas Precision Marketing), CSD (Creative Services Division), Front Page (Newspapers on Demand). Every division is its own profit center, so while all the equipment and production facilities are available to every division for a charge, they are aligned to their own profit and loss account. In this way, we know which division is performing well and can distinguish them from the under-performing ones. 

“Also, we are taking up value-add projects like for example designing primary school books, re-digitizing them or even printing the Atlas for Kenya, working with the government in the country.  For the first time in the history of Kenya, a non-European company is executing this project.  As a result, now we are in talks with 6 other African nations, wanting us to work with them, since we are more cost-effective than the European companies. Our publishing division for Africa publishes 3 magazines for Kenya - Healthy Woman, Healthy Child, Male (which stands for Money, Adventure, Lifestyle and Entertainment).  Through ink on paper, we cannot think of growth but by adding value to the products and services we offer. Where most printers go wrong, is that they keep squeezing prices to win orders. Where does one stop? Machinery depreciates, paper and ink costs the same, rent and electricity bills have to be paid.”

An avid golfer, Radia explains: “Three years ago we re-strategized and started to break up the company, and in the process are now aware if there are any overlapping of interests.  We now know which divisions are profitable and which are not, where to invest and so on.”

Opining that printers have invested heavily in machinery and there is over-capacity in the market, Radia adds,  “Today, its not about what machinery one owns, but what solutions a printshop can offer.  Its not about ‘I am the best’ but ‘What I can do for you’ that matters.  

“I foresee a boom in the printing industry, thanks especially due to Expo 2020, although not immediately, but maybe from 2015 onwards.  Also, the political instability in the surrounding regions ensures money coming into the country, which helps industry in general. I must add here the emphasis given to developing industry by the rulers also adds to the optimism.  However, having said that, I would not establish a new printing press today since the costs are quite high.  Qatar, Oman, Bahrain would be more appropriate. Costs are becoming quite challenging.   In the export markets our biggest competitors are India and China, and it is difficult to compete with their prices.” 

Backing the expertise of his staff, Radia claims, “While one cannot be successful in all aspects of life, success to me would be to achieve your targets always, and this would not be possible without the dedication of my employees. The quality of staff one employs determines the quality of work we can produce. Five years down the line, I see myself as taking a step down from day-to-day activities, and have the company running on its own merit by its division heads.” 

 

HIGHLIGHTS

● Established in 1994, Atlas Group currently operates 3 divisions - Atlas Print, Atlas Media and Atlas International under the group banner

● The company employs over 240 staff members and operates out of 2 premises in Dubai - its 35,000 sq feet factory in IMPZ and 55,000 sq feet in Al Quoz 

● The printshop undertakes short and long run jobs, with print runs ranging between 500-100,000 for magazines, 25,000-250,000 for catalogues and 1-250,000 brochures