Seddick Malek, group general manager of MBS Group Kuwait which owns Zabeel Printing Press LLC Dubai in conversation with Venkat Raghavan

Born and brought up in the United Kingdom, Seddick Malek graduated from a high school in the UK and then completed a degree in mechanical and production engineering. He holds diplomas in printing technology and business administration also. His first employment was for a flexographic label printing organization and then he proceeded onward to offset printing.

•  The press employed 20 staff in the beginning contrasted with now of approximately 200
•  They have been awarded by Dubai EXPO 2020 in November 2017 as ‘The best performing SME’

Talking about his printing career, Seddick Malek, group general manager, said, “I stumbled across the printing industry by chance. Having graduated in engineering, the natural progression was to seek a profession in engineering. It was the mid 1980’s and the UK was in recession. The engineering industry was combining activities and there were not enough opportunities accessible for new graduates. I had two options, discover another industry or go back to studies. The printing industry was still in a period of positive growth and while searching for an appropriate job, I saw that there was a considerable amount of opportunities in this sector. With my qualifications in mechanical and production engineering, it was easy for me to apply for positions that involved machinery and technology. I got an offer from a local printing company and I immediately accepted it.  Having learned the ins and outs of the technical side of print production over several years, I progressed on to working as an account manager for a print management company specializing in the production of financial reports for major International banks. In 2002, I set up my own print consultancy which I ran for 5 years before moving to the UAE in 2007. In 2008, I joined Zabeel Printing Press in Dubai as GM and in 2016, I assumed control as group general manager.”
About Zabeel, he says, “Musaed Bader Al Sayer began Zabeel Printing Press in 1977 and was one the first companies to form what is now the MBS Group with its headquarters in Kuwait. Musaed always had a passion for publishing and the printed word, he is also a very astute businessman and saw that there was a huge potential for growth in the printing industry in the Middle East, especially Dubai which was just starting to grow solid business infrastructure. The press employed 20 staff in the beginning contrasted with now of approx 200. Our core competency is quality and service and the way we approach our customers in understanding their requirements. This is proven by the number of awards Zabeel won both locally and internationally. We have been awarded  by Dubai Expo 2020 as ‘The Best Performing SME’ in November 2017. The focus for Zabeel in the immediate future is to fill the extra production capacity created by recent investments in automation and infrastructure with more volume, only when we have a requirement to add more capacity will we look at major investments in equipment.”
Speaking about the changes in the printing industry, comparison of global market, and challenges, he added, “There is not really any distinction globally in the actual printing process as we all use the same equipment and techniques, although very tight turnaround times and additional operations are more prevalent here in this region. To accommodate these demands, many printing presses here are equipped to carry out most processes in house, which isn’t the most cost-effective approach to utilize expensive equipment. Not all projects require these special finishes which means a lot of equipment is underutilized. A typical comparison from my experience in the UK would be that a printing press would generally consist of printing machines, cutting machines, folding machines and possibly saddle stitching or perfect binding machines. Specific operations such as lamination, foiling, die cutting, spot u.v. etc., would be subcontracted out to finishing companies who only offer these services; so their equipment has good utilization. Carrying underutilized equipment results in longer returns on investment and increased overheads. Unrealistic pricing and extended credit terms are the major challenges in the printing industry. I fail to understand how any company can offer pricing which is barely above material cost. This region doesn’t manufacture raw material and generally there is a global commodity price for most raw materials that we use so the playing field is quite level. There is only one-way unrealistic pricing is going to go ‘BANKRUPTCY’ Industry regulation would definitely help stamp out unethical business practices and can only be a good thing for the industry as a whole. The demand for print is definitely slowing; a correction in the supply and demand ratio is quite likely in the near future.”
Talking about market trends, digital printing, and credit period, he said, “There will always be a requirement for print but the trend unfortunately is that the industry is in decline which means the imbalance between supply and demand is likely to continue to move in the wrong direction. The digital printing market is an interesting one and definitely has an impact on shaping the future of our industry. We’ve seen it grow in the region quite rapidly in recent years but it has its limitations compared to other conventional printing processes, variable data and short run capabilities are the key strengths. Ink Jet and Nano technology could be the future of digital printing but will take time to establish. There is no doubt extended credit has a negative effect on any business, unless you are in a healthy cash positive situation to sustain good levels of cashflow.”
Signing off, he suggested some vital points: Do regular health checks on financial and operational performance. Evaluate the results realistically and react quickly to find solutions; Be selective in the kind of work suited to your business, rather than chase everything at any price; Have a strict credit policy, overdue debts impact bottom line dramatically; If the business is struggling, make changes to get it back on track; Invest wisely in new equipment and have a sustainable investment plan. Sometimes consolidating or downsizing is a healthier option.