UAE or the United Arab Emirates consists of seven independent city-states or emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm al-Quwain, Fujairah, Ajman, and Ras-al-Khaimah. Total population of all the emirates of UAE put together is much less than that of New Delhi India at 11.42 million with only 20% Emiratis and rest are expats making it the highest percentage of expatriates in any country in the world. The Indian expatriate population at 28% is the largest group in UAE. It is surprising that there is a substantial number of label printing companies there with more printers joining in year after year. In the start of the new Millennium, one could count the total number of label printing companies to around 10 which has now grown to over 40. Even though leading printers speak of intense competition and depleting margins yet there is a steady news of expansions and new companies joining the bandwagon of label printers. Obviously, it is not the local demand but due the business environment, conditions and facilities, the printing companies reach out to customers not only in the Middle East but also to Africa, Europe, and USA. It is a global hub from where they produce and export. It is normal to hear label printers in the region expressing difficulties due to a small market and intense competition, in such a situation it is heartwarming to see someone who comes from a fragile financial status, jumping into label printing and starting to register smart growth. One such person is Jagannath Wagle who endeavored to take the risk of setting up from virtually nothing, his maiden label venture, Sigma Middle East Labels that has started rising from humble beginnings.
It is rare to find humble people these days. Humility is putting pride behind, staying grounded to reality, have faith in oneself and learning from one’s modest beginnings to continuously move ahead with firm resolve and keep evolving. That is how Jagannath Wagle talks with respect and nostalgia about his humble background and times when he was growing up. this: As if living with his parents in a one 300 square feet room flat in Mumbai’s western suburb Nala Sopara along with two brothers was not crowded enough, to help the son of a family friend in village, his mother brought the boy to Mumbai to stay with them.” Jagannath’s father, an auditor with the government of India’s audit department had to manage within the meagre means to support a family of 6 people living in one room. However still they managed to impart the right education to all the children. Jagannath’s mother was a homemaker in true spirit, managing the household and the children by taking home tuitions, he reminisces fondly about her being an excellent cook.
Jagannath Wagle studied up to class 10th in Little flower English school in Nala Sopara followed by joining father Agnel technical college in 1992. Unfortunately, due to Mumbai riots in 1992 he could not attend college, had to drop a year, and later joined an institute in Vasai to complete the secondary school education. Later he wished to join an engineering college but could not afford the capitation fee demanded by institutes those days so as an alternative he studied to graduate with B.Sc. degree in Physics from Mumbai University in 1998. Due to the financial stress, a relative in Delhi suggested for him to join the Coast Guard but his mother did not relent as she wanted him to study further. He finally went on to get a B.Sc. (tech) degree that was equivalent to an engineering degree. Thereafter he started making applications for job in various organisations and also to start with, he accepted a job with a relatively small company TechGyan at a meagre salary of Rs.4000.00 per month (Approximately 55 dollars). He had a lot of interest in computers so had acquired knowledge about them and as a business to augment his earnings he started assembling computers for customers on job work basis charging Rs. 2000.00 per computer. He had already catered to almost 50 customers. At this time, he started getting interview calls from companies like HDFC, Wipro and Reliance. He was excited that he got selected in Reliance at a salary of Rs.18000. per month to start with. It is strange and a matter of kismet as to how life leads you to your eventual Karma Bhoomi, the land where one eventually works or performs his life’s deeds, this is as expressed in Indian literature. Before Jagannath could join Reliance, his family got a call from his mother’s brother in Dubai who had been tricked by someone to invest in a label manufacturing unit, knowing nothing about labels and he needed help. He requested the family to send Jagannath to Dubai.
Like any young man Jagannath also had aspired to work in distant lands like Europe and USA but for the Dubai offer by his uncle, he was hesitant as he knew nothing about labels, his knowledge was limited to computers and engineering. His mother impressed upon him to go to Dubai and support her brother who needed help and who else he could rely upon except family at this time. The decision was made and on 28 January 2004 Jagannath Wagle landed in UAE which everyone impulsively refers to as Dubai due to its being recognized as the face of UAE. He started to work with his uncle in Ajman, as a salesman on a salary of 1500 Dirhams per month. Though he started as salesman, but his job profile eventually became all in one, heading the label business with a team of only 3 persons just like a startup entrepreneur. Jagannath knew that with UAE having one of the highest per capita income, it would be expensive and difficult to manage in the income promised and more difficult if he got married. To make success of his career he plunged head on into the business he had no knowledge about. Customers and suppliers became his teacher and taught him all about plates, cylinders, color management etc. he was a fast learner. A business that was 10000 Dirhams per month when he joined and his uncle was pumping in money each month to sustain expenses, became 100,000 per month in just a year’s time, all this with just one two color small tacky boy press. Any label printer will understand the effort that must have gone into achieving this.
In 2005 Jagannath convinced his uncle that to remain in business they needed another machine. A used 1980 model 7” 3color Mark Andy 830 was acquired. In today’s time of advanced servo driven modular presses that equipment sounds irrelevant yet by 2007 he was able to reach a sale of 350,000 Dirhams per month by working 24 hours every day, the Tacky boy press became redundant. Jagannath’s salary was enhanced to 3500 and he got married to Pooja from Bohisar in Mumbai. Pooja also came from a very humble background, the father having passed away, her mother taught children of poverty-stricken people. She was working as a credit card salesperson with ICICI bank. They came in contact through a matrimonial website and the marriage was arranged by parents with the couple having never met each other. Once married the couple faced financial stress and there was need to move up in life.
|Part of Sigma old factory shed
There was no scope for further expansion with the existing Mark Andy 830 press, discontent crept in, Jagannath contemplated on starting on his own or returning to India, but his wife Pooja put her foot down that there was no way she will go back to India and bring up her children there. Meanwhile Jagannath’s cousin had joined the label business and took over the management. Jagannath decided to initially start his own trading business of making non adhesive liners for cores. Having no money to start manufacturing himself he started out sourcing converting also from his uncle’s company for whom he was working. He was so respectful toward his uncle because of whom he was in Dubai and had indulged in learning the label business, that he made sure not to touch any customer who was buying from them. He even kept working simultaneously with uncle during the day and after office hours for his trading business because he wanted to let his cousin to complete his MBA before he left that business completely. Once free Jagannath decided to get full-fledged into labels but making sure he never touched his uncle’s customers. He started getting his jobs done from a company called German labels and as luck would have it sometime later the owner of that company decided to quit business and sell the machine.
|Old factory shed
Jagannath wished to buy that press but did not have the funds, so he requested the owner to accept instalments, fortunately as he was destined, the owner agreed to handover the press with 50% down payment and 50% in 6 months. Now the 50% down payment was also not there but a determined Jagannath Wagle refused to give in. In due course of time his two brothers and the friend who lived with him in Nala Sopara had all moved to Dubai and were in good jobs. They all came to rescue and pooled in money to help him buy the Mark Andy. The trade license he took in 2009 was converted to a manufacturing license in 2010. So, in January 2010 Sigma Middle East Labels Industries LLC started their maiden venture operating with a 250mm preowned Mark Andy 830 press in an 1100 square ft shed in Ajman with just one operator and a helper. Hard work and sheer perseverance produced good results and at this time a difficult situation cropped up. The only operator he had met with an accident and in emergency had to go to India. It was during the Eid period when business is at a peak in UAE, not being the one to be left behind, Jagannath himself operated the printing machine for the next three months. When a container of stocks arrived, he and his only helper would unload and moved goods into the shed and stack them. As at that moment he could not afford help and this incident will always keep him grounded to reality. Watching him make the gigantic offer many suppliers came forward to support him. He is extremely appreciative of Ajay Mehta of SMI Coated products for his support in supplying material on credit to his start-up venture.
In 2012 when his sales from just one press reached 150,000 to 200,000 Dirhams per month, it was time for Sigma to move on to the next level and acquire another bigger press, he wished to install a European brand, but paucity of funds made him decide on an eight color all UV Multitec 330mm label press which was installed in 2013. It was his first modular press and was a big jump for Jagannath. Even though he lost some money initially as his costing was not right but soon, he took corrective steps towards growth, “This was my biggest learning curve” says Jagannath.
|Bobst at New Premises
Two years down the line in 2015 a jubilant Jagannath fulfilled his dream of acquiring a European label press, a Gidue MX370 , 8 color all UV, 1 die station, delam-relam, cold foil and lamination was installed along with and some more additional equipment, also adding more shopfloor space. The fast unplanned expansion led to problems in cash flow and in 2016 Sigma ran into financial stress and troubles. Payments to suppliers were delayed and supplies became restricted. A person having risen from grass roots and not the one to give up, Jagannath kept constant touch with his vendors assuring them safety of their investment and in the meanwhile putting in enhanced efforts to nurture his company to good health. By 2017, recovery had started. Sigma moving ahead acquired yet another Gidue like the one they had.
Here on, a more professional approach was put in place, targets planned and achieved, more ancillary equipment including a Chinese press 5 colors with UV and hot air in 2019 to print the liners for cores was added and the second Gidue like the one bought before was bought. Yet again mentions Jagannath that SMI was there to support him, he remains indebted to them. However, learning from past experiences, he sold the Multitec press so that he did not run into financial stress again. The one 1100 square feet shed had multiplied to become 4 sheds and continued growth had become a reality at Sigma. The first used Mark Andy 830 that he had, was given to a friend in Oman at low price to help him.
In 2020 things became comfortable, Sigma moved from the four 1100 square feet sheds to a plush well planned 12000 square foot facility with well-furnished and equipped offices.
|Going Digital with Konica Minolta
They invested 5 million Dirhams adding a Konica Minolta, foiling equipment and Esko and Asahi plate making system.
|Reception of new premises
In early this year 2021 Jagannath decided that his company had to upgrade to latest equipment to be more efficient in production, he sold the first Gidue he had bought and replaced it with a brand new fully loaded Gidue M5. Jagannath has finally put Sigma on its road to success and bigger business, he attributes the his journey so far to the inspiration that he got from a Indian picture “Guru” based on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani the founder of Reliance Industries Ltd. He still quotes the dialogue from that film, “If I am doing well why not for myself ?”.
The credit for this amazing journey largely goes to the woman behind Jagannath, his wife Pooja who solidly supported him right through, besides bringing up their only daughter. Pooja is a partner in the company holding the purse strings as the financial controller. No business succeeds without a good team Jagannath and Pooja carefully built their team as a family and took only people from grassroot levels and trained them, two of their teammates had joined as labour/helpers and now work as business development executive bringing in half a million Dirham business each. During their struggling days, Jagannath’s brother in law Kishor Vedpathak quit his job in Mumbai to come and support him, he now looks after Sigma as admin manager. Looking back, he reminisces that his first big break was when he got a big order for 100,000 price marking rolls from Centre Point Chain retail stores. He plans to enhance capacity again later this year with yet another flexo press plus another digital press. Up from just two employees when he started on his own, he now works with 55 employees including four designers inhouse, Sigma has registered a sale of 25 million Dirhams last year growing 30% in a pandemic year!
|Jagannath in his new office
Deep in thought and with a smile he mentions that he wishes to be if not the biggest, he will try to be one of the biggest label printers in UAE in 5years time. He is confident that he will continue to lead Sigma Middle East Labels to keep rising to higher levels.
Written by Harveer Sahni, Chairman Weldon Celloplast Ltd. New Delhi June 2021
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