Sunday, 30 January, 2011

A 100-year-old press moves with the times

The MWN Press in Chennai’s busy Royapettah area, on Lloyds Road, has just completed 100 years. It was in 1910 that N.R.K Tatachari, a lawyer practising lawyer in the Madras High Court, launched the Madras Weekly Notes (MWN), a legal journal. A press was then set up to print the journal and it thus came to be called MWN Press. Tatachari soon took up jobbing work and produced the LIFCO dictionary (a sort of Bible for students in Tamil Nadu in those years), Sanskrit publications of the Sri Ramakrishna Mission, as well as publications of Orient Longman.

NT Ramanujam continued the good work started by his father, Tatachari, and managed MWN Press during the letterpress days. Under NR Srivas, Ramanujam’s younger son, MWN welcomed the offset press. Srinivas had studied printing technology from the School of Printing and it was he who really improved the equipment and set the tone for adopting a quality culture in the organisation.

A single-colour offset machine was purchased in 1984 and MWN quickly established a name as a quality single-colour printer. A second-hand, imported, reconditioned, 5-colour manroland arrived in 1995. Sadly, Srivas’s bright spark did not last long – he died in a road accident in 1998. This led to his elder brother, NR Kumar, a management consultant, stepping in.

It has indeed been a long journey for a press that started on a one-ground property – a dilapidated house with a courtyard. If the cramped space has been suffocating to a degree, business has not been smooth over the years. For example, in the 1990s, when pre-gummed labels for Hindustan Lever formed a major chunk of the business, Levers suddenly slashed volumes and prices because the MNC was going through a problem. It affected MWN Press quite badly, but Kumar says it was in retrospect one of the best things to have happened. It questioned the company’s survival and Kumar and his team knew that if they did not completely transform their style of operation, they would be in deep trouble.

And so, the focus shifted to controlling wastage and adopting a constant quest-for-quality culture in the form of Kaizen. To show that he meant business, Kumar ‘let go’ of four senior staff. That sent the message to the rest of the staff. In 2002, Kumar bought the Mitsubishi Diamond 1000 5-colour press.

Today, MWN Press is all set to shift completely to a new facility, an energy-efficient building, on 12-ground premises in Mangadu. The process has already begun. Paperwork has been reduced and accounting operations have been speeded up, with supplier payments being made by electronic transfer and staff salaries being credited directly to bank accounts. The present office may be serve as a marketing hub.

In six months, MWN Press is likely to add another 5-colour machine, complete with coater and extended delivery. Will it be another Mitsubishi? Kumar hasn’t decided yet, but he says technology has hit a plateau and he sees no difference between the Mitsubishi Diamond and V series. He doesn’t mind taking a look at reconditioned European machines. One thing he is certain about though, is that the new addition will double volumes for MWN Press.

Sashi Nair

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