Prologue by author: In 2010 I wrote an article on Chandan Khanna, where he expressed, “I wanted to be different”! Six years later after visiting his label manufacturing unit in Thailand I wrote again quoting him in the title, “I am different”. He has time and again proved that he is not the one to stay stagnant and moves on in life. He sold his Indian operations at a pinnacle and moved into other arenas in pursuit of businesses pursuing passions other than labels. While his Thailand and Sharjah unit are still in good operations, he did not indulge personally but mentored and groomed a person who joined him in the initial stages of his career as an assistant manager. His protégé, Sachin Arya was a quick learner and a committed honcho who climbed the rungs in labels like an entrepreneur. Yes, Chandan Khanna, you proved you are different!

Sachin Arya, hailing from Faridabad a suburb of New Delhi joined Ajanta Packaging in 2008 as assistant Manager at their Baddi unit in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. After short internships at a couple of international banks he did his MBA from IILM Delhi in 2005 and set up own startup for export and import business in partnership with a friend. While he and his partner were contemplating a foray in to labels industry by importing labelstocks, Sachin came in contact with Chandan Khanna. While he was still trying to understand the labels business, Chandan made him an offer to join his company and asked him to go for some time to his Baddi unit to learn and get a feel of things.

He went to Baddi for a week and the team at Ajanta made sincere efforts to teach him the nuances of printing and managing a labels unit. Sachin was a good learner and seriously indulged in getting a feel of all the processes. Though He liked the feel of the labels business yet his commitment to his friend with whom he was in partnership in the import export business was bothering him, leaving their startup suddenly was not sounding right. Since there were some projects that Sachin had initiated so he needed time to complete them before joining Ajanta fulltime. Chandan Khanna is a farsighted businessman, and he had the patience as he saw the potential in Sachin and thus for a year Chandan let him finish his projects and attend to Ajanta’s work for a couple of days each week shuttling between Delhi and Baddi. A year later Sachin completed his pending projects and amicably, both friends agreed to dissolve the partnership. Sachin gave up his share to his friend who still runs that business and himself  joined  Ajanta Packaging Baddi, full time.

Sachin’s father now retired, had worked as Finance Manager in Friends Auto India Ltd Faridabad for over 30-35 years. His son Sachin was born and brought up in Delhi and moved to Faridabad in 2004 after he finished his education. On joining Ajanta Packaging in Baddi he realised, his learning in labels was limited and he was almost a novice.

He did not have a thorough knowledge of fine printing and least of all managing a label manufacturing unit. It was a big change for him to move from a self-owned trading enterprise to working for  a service-oriented industry. It was a time when Ajanta’s packaging’s Baddi unit was trying to qualify for P&G (Proctor and Gamble) and the unit was not yet ready for the qualification. Though they were in production, yet to meet the stringent requirements for P&G, there was a lot that needed to be done. Sachin’s original brief was that he was to be in marketing and rest, he needed to find his way around in the company. He was an indulgent worker from day one and initiated his work by putting together SOPs. He got help from the P&G team  and his senior, the plant manager, who is an experienced industry professional. While the P&G audit was underway and had yet to be cleared, the plant manager who was heading the enterprise at Baddi suddenly quit the job, just days before the audit. Unfortunately, Ajanta failed that audit but with sympathetic consideration, P&G understood their situation and gave them another final opportunity on  date just two months later for another audit. As all responsibility fell on Sachin and it was a challenging situation, he decided to meet the challenge head-on. He hired some knowledgeable people, revisited all parameters and finally got the audit cleared.

The learning: P&G gave them an artwork for “Pantene” a job which was tough, and which they were printing in Ajanta Thailand, on offset with a vignette in single colour from zero to hundred percent. That label was a real challenge. The label also had printing in gravure and screen, and they were to create that on their nine colour flexopress. They also had to print by flexo, the “Head & Shoulder” label by matching the metallic silver that was earlier done on gravure. Having no knowledge, Sachin took the challenge in his stride and worked on it contacting suppliers like Siegwerk and Eckart for support. He even spent a couple of days at the Siegwerk lab learning CIELAB and matching colours to print successfully.

The CIE in CIELAB is the abbreviation for the International Commission on Illumination’s French name, Commission Internationale de l´Eclairage. The letters L*, a* and b* represent each of the three values the CIELAB color space uses to measure objective color and calculate color differences. The L*A*B* stand for  L* indicates lightness, a* is the red/green coordinate, and b* is the yellow/blue coordinate. He was required to match Delta E values and send ink drawdowns to the buyers. Delta E is measured on a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 is less color difference, and 100 indicates complete distortion. It was the first time in his life that he saw a spectrophotometer. When the Siegwerk lab staff showed him, the blue looking a little red, he was surprised how blue can look red? Sachin put in hard work to learn travelling daily from Faridabad to Siegwerk factory in Bhiwadi in Rajasthan, a distance of more than 90 Kms each way. Once back in Baddi, Sachin was able to successfully match the colours, adding more aniloxes to their existing anilox rolls library to get the finer output and at a time when HD flexo was not yet available. His biggest learnings came from all industry suppliers. He learnt the value of cleaner aniloxes so also requisitioned an anilox cleaner. When the challenge came for screen printing, he requested support from Stork. The P&G audit was cleared and then onwards there was no looking back. There was capacity enhancement at Ajanta and Sachin so rightly gives all the credit for his learning to his mentor and boss, the farsighted Chandan Khanna, who reposed full trust in Sachin’s capabilities and kept on investing on Sachin’s grooming as a technically sound person with leadership qualities. Chandan continued to invest in multiple label presses and increasing the capacity of the Baddi unit. This was beside his manufacturing facility in Daman in the west of India and the unit in Thailand. Sitting in faraway Mumbai, he reposed full trust in Sachin and his capability to come up to expectations.

Career journey: Chandan had seen and sensed the caliber of Sachin and training did not end at just making him technically sound. He further entrusted him with marketing, besides being the key account manager for P&G as well, to complete the leadership acumen in him with hands-on experience. Sachin set up his systems and a team at production and himself started travelling with marketing teams to brand owners and other customers understanding their requirements and explaining to them the intricacies of their capability to create labels that add value and enhance the sale ability of the product adorning them. Brand owners make artworks on a computer but how it must be converted on complex substrates from the conceptualised label design needs a lot of technical consideration. For this reason, his travel with the marketing and sales teams was an asset in converting efforts to orders. From his initial designation as an assistant Manager at Baddi Sachin rose became the general manager and his presence became necessary wherever in the group new press installation was being done, may it be in Baddi, Daman, Thailand or Sharjah in UAE.

Rising to the top: From 2008 to 2015, Sachin had transformed from a novice to an expert, though he firmly believes he has still to learn a lot but is sure that whatever is challenge, he can work his way with support from his mentor, suppliers, industry colleagues and his team, to meet it. If anyone can create an innovative label, he can also replicate. If there are processes that they don’t know or do not have the capability, with Chandan’s active encouragement and support in investment and Sachin’s own eagerness to learn, he could also do the needful. When growth prospects became evident in Sharjah, they had to get the qualification for P&G there also. Sachin with his experience was offered by Chandan to move to Sharjah more so because the team at Baddi was all set to take care, themself. Sachin and his wife had a growing child and wished to move from Baddi and this offer from Chandan suited his needs and after a smooth transition to team at Baddi, he moved to Ajanta Sharjah to work under the then General Manager. Six months after Sachin joined Ajanta UAE, Chandan found the unit was not doing well, the way he envisaged and at that time the then General manager resigned and quit Ajanta UAE. Since Sachin was already there the responsibility fell on his shoulders. As a first step he got the qualification done from P&G by replicating the success he had with them in Baddi. It took him a while to understand the laws and their implications in UAE and the way business was conducted in the Middle East. In 2016 he was formally handed over the full charge of the unit as general Manager of the UAE company. In two years by 2018 the company with day-to-day guidance from Chandan Khanna, achieved stability and was on it way to growth.

By this time, Chandan was restless and wished to move into other arenas and pursue other lines of business. He sold his India operations to Huhtamaki India retaining the operations in Thailand and UAE. Ajanta UAE was being run well and he adopted a hands-off approach and let Sachin run the company like an entrepreneur and being available whenever he was needed. The company became system driven and he was reached out only for capex or urgent approvals. In 2021 Sachin’s designation was changed to Managing Director, while Chandan is the group Managing Director and Chandan’s father the Chairman of the company.

Both Chandan and his father do visit Ajanta occasionally but since all is going well, they have given a free hand to Sachin to run the unit efficiently. Talking of the difference between his profile in Baddi India to now is rightly expressed by Sachin. He mentions that in India he was just a part of the team and was not responsible for the results other than those in his limited profile but here he is answerable for everything including profitability and growth of the company. He is proud to report that with the help of the team created, the turnover of Ajanta UAE has doubled in the last five years, and he targets another 100% growth in the next three years!

His vision and efforts have been to bring efficiency in production with existing equipment to achieve. He remains committed to achieving more with less. After his taking charge, two Omet Iflex and one Iwasaki have been added to the existing number of machines at Sharjah. Talking of digital label printing, he says the Khanna family and their company heritage is from offset printing business and for that they find the quality of Iwasaki intermittent offset presses that they have, as the preferred technology. As per the customer base they have, they do not accept very short runs but most of the jobs that are short runs for flexo process, they do it cost effectively with good results on the Iwasaki offset presses and they convert the longer runs on their flexo presses. Presently at Sharjah they have eight label presses out of which five are from Iwasaki, one Nilpeter and two Omets. The total workforce in the unit is 120 operating from 18000 square feet shopfloor. For future they are building a 100,000 square feet factory at Umm Al Quwain. In terms of sustainability, they are working on various things like Solar energy, working with brands to downscale the substance weights, switching to filmic liner thereby reducing tonnage and possibility of recyclability.

Sachin’s wife Sapna is a HR professional, but both are clear not to bring office to home and not take home to office and that is why they decide they will not work in same company. Their son Shamir is 10 years old and goes to Sharjah English School. Chandan’s farsighted approach has transformed a professional employee Sachin to climb the rungs of label industry and work like an entrepreneur doing justice to the trust imposed on him by his mentor Chandan Khanna.

Written by Harveer Sahni Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi Nov. 2023