In India’s pre-independence era when printing technology was still very basic and foot operated treadle presses like the one shown alongside were used to carry out printing jobs, in 1941 Upendra Anantha Pai and his brother Dr. T M A Pai in Manipal, South India co-founded, “Manipal Power Press”. They named their enterprise so because they used power to operate the presses in their unit. It was the new technology prevalent in those times. The printing company was located in Manipal, a small town near Udupi, the abode of Lord Krishna in coastal Karnataka.


Type-setting with lead type-faces and wooden blocks used to be assembled together manually to make the printing frame that would be used to make repetitive prints. In today’s time this sounds primitive, yet in those days the printing process was considered to be ahead of its time. 

Satish Pai & Mohandas Pai with their manager

In the late 1950s Dr. T M A Pai’s eldest son T Mohandas Pai and T Satish Pai son of T Upendra Pai, joined the management of the press. As time progressed, technology kept on evolving and up-gradation to match the evolution was adapted by this enterprise. They kept pace with the need to implement change and automation, as and when it became an imperative. With passage of time, from the treadle printing presses to faster Mercedes letterpress machines to sheet fed offsets and web-offset printing presses, transformed Manipal Power press immensely. The original name Manipal Power Press started to appear a little confusing, as running a press or for that matter any factory, without the aid of power became unimaginable. So in 2000 the middle name was dropped and the company was renamed as Manipal Press Pvt. Ltd. and later Manipal Press Ltd. Youth has many attributes and some of them are the immense energy, desire to excel and the capability to take risks to stay ahead in a rapidly changing scenario. They are restless and if motivated and mentored in the right direction they can produce amazing results. Their induction in any enterprise along with experienced mentors brings about a freshness that transforms the organisation from a possible stagnation into the fast forward mode. When it was time to induct the generation next into leadership and to eventually pass the reigns into their hands, the management of Manipal Press took the expected decision of inducting Gautham Pai, grandson of the co-founder T Upendra Pai and son of Satish Pai, into the company. 
Gautham Pai, his office, designed to also be a conference room
Gradually, growth picked up with expansion towards various tangents. The focus of this organization, that was initially into printing transformed to become “communications”. Printing became a part of the process for Manipal Press to turn out products that would aid communications. Diverse printing processes and converting technologies were adopted to march into future and turn out state of art products and services. It was time again to change the name of the company such that it communicated its focused mindset. In 2011 Manipal Press Ltd. became Manipal Technologies Limited.

Upendra Ananth Pai alongwith his younger brother Dr. T M A Pai and friend Vaman Kudwa, an engineer by profession, were the founders of the now nationalized Syndicate Bank. Upendra Pai’s eldest son T A Pai was instrumental in rise of Syndicate Bank, he rose to be the chairman of the bank. T A Pai later headed many important, Government of India Organisations and also became a union cabinet minister. In 1957 his younger brother Satish Pai was inducted into the management of Manipal Power Press which was set up initially to cater to the needs of Syndicate Bank printing ledgers and stationery. With a committed customer in Syndicate Bank, the press kept growing at a modest pace. Other customers were added from the region but largely the operation remained active locally. The initial treadle presses were replaced by faster mechanical letterpresses and then by one and two colour Heidelberg offset printing presses. In 1975 as demand grew they felt a strong need to go for faster machines so they invested in their first web offset press, a 16 inch Thimson. At this time the company was producing bank stationery, cheques and other security printing materials. It was only in 1999 that they bought their first four colour offset press that actually brought them into mainline commercial printing. Around the same time, Satish Pai’s only son Gautham, then in his mid twenties joined Manipal Power Press when the company turnover stood at 90 crores. Gautham, did his schooling at the Madhav Krupa School in  Manipal followed by graduation at MGM College and finally acquiring his degree in printing technology from MIT Manipal. He initially worked in the media division looking after production of magazines and newspapers. Having interest in the digital IT field he also indulged in developing a business in software development. Even during his school days he was quite fascinated by the printing businesss and would often visit the press, sometimes even during the night when work was going on. However strange as it seems coming from an engineering student, he says, “It is the business that interests me more than the technology”. I guess it is the banking heritage that shows. In his initial training period Gautham even printed himself for two months. Later he set up a corrugated packaging unit all by himself and remembers the problems encountered. It took him 6 months to get a power connection he reminisces. Satish Pai has been a very positive influence on his son. Gautham is modest in his approach to people and very patient in listening to understand what people say. Speaking about his father Gautham says, “He is always accessible and mild by nature but extremely persistent in his pursuits”. Gautham also started a business in making candles and home fragrances which has grown phenomenally. When I asked him, “why fragrances”? His eyes lit up and said, “I love fragrances!”
By 2004 a 30 year old Gautham was firmly in the driving seat at Manipal Press. A tour of all the facilities at Manipal escorted by him personally left me in awe of what this young man had achieved in the last nine years. It was absolutely amazing to see how this company had integrated backward and forward. They have invested in technologies that are extremely diverse and justify the new name. As one enters the book and magazine printing unit, one is left looking at a vast spread of machines, finishing/packaging equipment and a sea of workers converting tons of paper. The security printing and products unit makes credit cards, scratch cards and other security products. It is a totally self sufficient unit complete with an in-house post office. They produce their own holograms, security labels, security envelopes, etc. They also produce their own self adhesive labelstocks on a Nordson hotmelt coater. The packaging unit displays their move into the packaging by more investments being made there. In a recent move they have merged their packaging business with Utility Printpack, India’s leading packaging solutions providers, creating a new entity Manipal Utility Packaging Solutions (MUPL), having manufacturing operations in Manipal, Ahmedabad and Chennai. According to company press release this move is a game changer in the packaging business landscape in India and will create unbeatable customer value proposition. To increase their offerings to the FMCG and the Pharmaceutical sectors they have acquired controlling stake in Chennai based UPSL in 2007. They aspire, the label business to contribute Rupees 100 crores turnover in two years from units at multiple locations in India.
Gautham gives credit of this success to his team and finds pride in the fact that he has let them grow in their work space as entrepreneurs and draw pleasure in delivering value to the organization. It is thus that in times of crisis they come together as one team and family all knit as one to resolve issues effectively. Some of the employees in the company have grown from grassroots level to become managers. Gautham relies heavily on evaluation done by his team before making investment decisions. Finally it is always the banker in him that comes to the fore; “Numbers matter” he says and adds, “Never really have invested in a facility that did not work”. However he does get pensive when we talk of RFID on which they continue to research as the project appears to have futuristic potential but the numbers continue to evade, so the decision to invest remains on hold. Credit cards, document security, digital variable information printing, scratch cards, etc are projects that have exciting aspirational prospects for Manipal Technologies and will continue attract up gradation and investments on an ongoing basis. The company or the group as I would like to term it now has come a long way from 2004, the time Gautham took charge of management and when the turnover was 90 crores. Today, operating out of a total workspace of almost 700000 square feet and using 36000 tons of paper and board, the group total turnover is almost Rupees 2550 Crores. Manipal Technologies has units in Manipal, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Kumta, Kolkata, Germany, Kenya and Nigeria. All units are certified for ISO (EMS) 14001.2004, FSC and fully compliant for the highest level of regulatory standards for pollution control. The break-up of their turnover is as here under;
Printing and packaging:    Rs.700.00 Crores with 4500 employees
Home Fragrances:             Rs.1600.00 Crores with 2000 employees
Media Business:                 Rs. 250.00 Crores with 300 employees

Satish Pai has since retired from business 6 years back. I missed the opportunity to meet him during my visit to Manipal as he was in USA visiting his daughter. Gautham’s mother Sandhya Pai who has been a very active support to her husband still spends time at the office managing the editorial of the media publications where she has been working since 1997.  Gautham’s wife Vanita, an alumni of Delhi’s LSR College, belongs to a Jain family from Moradabad. In 1999 she had come to Manipal to pursue a post graduate course in Journalism. As luck would have it, the college did not have a campus of its own so classes were being held in the building that also housed Gautham’s office. Just about a month before she was to return home after completing her studies, she met Gautham… it was love, at first sight! They met each day after that and decided to take the marriage vows. Vanita was worried if Gautham’s parents would accept her, which eventually they did. Vanita feels that her being a vegetarian influenced her mother in law’s decision to accept her. The evening I spent with them at their home, I could still see the glow on them and the twinkle in their eyes while telling their story. The romance was ongoing and evident! They have two wonderful daughters, Trisha and Divina aged 8years and 4 years respectively. When I asked Gautham if he expected them to join his business one day, he laughed it out that they were too young at this time and when time comes they will decide for themselves. Vanita loves journalism and does contribute to the media business occasionally. Helping in designing department, when annual calendars were being created.
Gautham Pai is satisfied that his company continues to grow in value in the end user prospective. The evolution of print technologies, whether digital or analogue, does not bother him. He is committed to go with the flow. As far as he is concerned, he is communicating. Digital, offset, gravure, flexo or letterpress is not the matter, it is communication. Manipal Technologies Limited will continue to evolve in print, credit cards, aiding payment transaction technologies, service solutions, document security, etc. In five years he sees this company as a 50% solutions providing company. As for packaging he wants his company to be creating value for his customers. By modest estimates he feels his business will grow at a rate of 20% per annum. To achieve so he feels he needs to have the right person at the right place to run the business effectively. However still he feels, while members of his committed team are extremely important for leading the business to continued growth, yet the business should be structured so as to run and grow steadily on strength of systems put in place by his team. He wishes and expects his team leaders to be smarter than he himself. His mantra, “Delegation is the key, ownership and management should not be mixed”
Written by Harveer Singh Sahni, Managing Director, Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi, India December 2013
The article was first published by Printweek India.