Life begins at the end of your comfort zone: Jayakrishna Valluru

Hailing from Bangalore in India, Jayakrishna Valluru has an educational background in printing. He has done a printing engineering degree from BMS College of Engineering in Bangalore and a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Management from SDM-IMD Mysore. And he was campus recruited by Kodak Polychrome Graphics. He says he got into printing by chance. After the entrance examination, he was allocated printing engineering in his home town Bangalore and pursued it. Jayakrishna loves to read books and owns a small library at home. 
After his engineering, he first worked with Indo European Machinery, the distributor of many well-known graphic arts equipment. Some brands included Man Roland, Kolbus, Sigloch, Steinemann, Timsons, Aster, Ryobi and Scan Graphic. He worked with Indo European for a few years and got back to academics to pursue his business management course. Upon completion of the two years course in 2001, he got campus recruited at KODAK Polychrome Graphics. He continued to work with Kodak until he came to the United Arab Emirates in 2004. He went on a visit and took up a job with AGE Graphics Equipments. Now it’s 17 years, and he continues to serve the same company in the current position of managing director. 
AGE was started in Saudi Arabia in the year 2002. They moved to Dubai in 2003. An American entrepreneur started the company to help a friend of his, who worked for many years at Heidelberg, Canada. They started the company by getting an exclusive dealership for Presstek in the GCC Region. AGE was the first in the region to offer an ultimately chemistry-free plate. AGE was offering chemistry-free plates almost 18 years ago. They were a Pre Press Company during the initial years, and now they equally focus on Pre Press and Post Press products. Initially, they were a bigger team to accommodate the consumable business. Now their focus is more on machinery. So they are rightly sized to meet the demands of the market. 
Jayakrishna names some of the changes he has seen in the printing industry in his long-term experience. They are more automation in equipment, e-commerce and web to print, growth in packaging printing, growth in print embellishments, the importance of sustainability in the printing industry and single-use plastic being replaced by paper or paper board. Also, he explains how the print industry in his home country differs compared to the Middle East or elsewhere. He says, “I am from the printing industry here in the Middle East. There is much prominence being laid on the environment aspect in Europe, America and some parts of Asia. A lot of environment-friendly processes, materials and applications are being tried. We need to follow these practices. We want to promote and get products and technologies that will contribute towards local environmental protection.”
He adds, “It is mainly the education we need to impart to make the print community aware of sustainability. You should not look at things only from the cost point of view. We will then not be able to implement anything green. It is like the cost of electric vehicles at present. As more and more people buy them, the cost will come down. It’s the same with products and processes for our industry too. That’s the reason I say that education and push from the government to move towards greener alternatives will help.”
Jayakrishna opens up about the main challenges he has been facing in the printing industry. He says one of the main challenges is the resistance to change. It is tough to convince many printers to consider newer technologies, materials, and software that would change productivity levels and help improve their business. Many printers are comfortable in the way they are operating even though they need to change.
Jayakrishna says, “AGE Graphics is specialised in four areas of print: 1) Post Press Products – That Include folder gluers, die-cutting and foiling machines, lamination machines, paper bag machines, window patching machine, sheeter, carton erecting machines, rigid box lines to name a few. 2) Software and Pre-Press – we sell and support packaging software for keyline generation and Pre-Press design. We also sell colour Management software, Workflow software, QC software for colour management, used and new CTP devices, to name a few. 3) QC Labs – We help the print and packaging companies in setting up QC labs. We also sell Spectro densitometers and plate readers. 4) Certification Of Printers – We are a team with G7 certified experts, and we can help our customers’ get G7 Certification. 
“For business owners, the benefits of being a G7 Master Facility are simple. Their customer base will increase due to print buyers actively seeking out suppliers who are G7 certified. Also, their costs will go down because of reduced paper waste and ink consumption. The G7 methodology allows you to: Implement ISO printing standards and additional metrics Align all process, substrates and inks.”
When asked about the success mantra of his company, Jayakrishna said, “being Humble and understanding our customers’ needs is the key to our success. We do thorough research before we represent and sell any of the equipment. We have many very senior-level contacts in India and abroad who guide us to choose the right equipment. We make sure that the equipment we propose to sell is being used extensively by the big and the best players in print worldwide. Since my work experience in India involved working for a company that sold and serviced various graphic arts equipment, I have maintained good relations with most of the engineers, consultants, operators, CEOs and owners for a long time. We understand, printers are investing their hard-earned money into new projects, and we want to fully ensure that they are selecting the best Brands/Equipment within a particular product category. With the time and effort that we put in to, before representing a brand, we make sure our customers get back the best value for the money that they spend.”
He continues, “We deal with only the best equipment brands from China and around the world. This is another reason for our success. To give an example, we represent DGM for their folder gluers/die cutters/foil Stampers. DGM is a 37 years old company and one of the premium manufacturers for packaging equipment in China. They have brought over some European manufacturers too. DGM is the world’s largest manufacturer of folder gluer machines. They have sold 550 machines last year and close to 75 machines in the last two years in India alone. We are sure that our customers will succeed using the equipment that is time tested in the international markets.”
He added that AGE did win a trophy from Presstek for achieving the highest sales in chemistry-free plates.
Jayakrishna shares his views on the definition of success. He says, “success will mean different things to different people. For some, it's money, for some, it's fame, for some, it's recognition, and the list could go on. For us at AGE, success is seeing our customers succeed using the software or equipment that we sell.”
When asked about the most memorable moment in his career, he said, “I guess it is bad to say that your most memorable event was a nightmare. But difficulties shape up people and help them succeed. After all, a diamond is a chunk of coal that did well under pressure. I love the saying. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
Jayakrishna is quite confident about the future of AGE. He says, “five years down the line, we will be very close to celebrating our sliver Jubilee. We have now been serving the printers for the last 19 years. As I mentioned earlier, we were the pioneers in introducing environment-friendly products to the UAE print market. Regulations worldwide are tightening the environmental laws, and the printing industry is no exception. We will focus on getting greener products that will help reduce the environmental impact on the printers here in our region. We also plan to focus more on colour training as we see a huge gap in this area. Right now, our primary focus is on Packaging Equipment. We want to get the BEST Brands from China and around the world to the printers here in GCC and Africa region for finishing. We cover the GCC region and also some countries in Africa at Present.
“We already represent some of the best brands in their product categories: DGM  - Folder Gluer / Die Cutters/ foil stampers, KDX – High-Speed Lamination Machines, ST – Case making, cold foiling and hologram transfer machines, Hong-Ming – Rigid Box machines, Euro Progetti – Rigid Box Machines  and Golden Tec – sheeters.”
Jayakrishna asserts that there is overall positive feedback from the market at present. Commercial work too is expected to pick up as the COVID restrictions are being eased. Predominantly, the shift is towards packaging. There are many different things that a printer can choose to do in packaging. 
When asked about the challenges which the company has gone through, Jayakrishna says,  “as you are aware, AGE started by selling CTP, workflow, colour management and allied products from Pre Press. There is no bad phase, but we rather took a long transition period from Pre Press to Post Press. It has taken us nearly ten years to switch from Pre Press to Post Press. I can now confidently tell that we are a prominent company that offers good reliable brands and equipment for Post Press. We have our machines installed in some of the TOP packaging companies in the UAE. Also, our knowledge in Pre-Press and colour has become a blessing in disguise as we can guide our customers right. The most important aspect is to get your Pre Press right for your packaging to have the right colours. We have the distinct advantage of Knowing software /Certifications as well as equipment.”
 Speaking about supply and demand, Jayakrishna said, “when you talk about regular commercial work, there is an excess supply over demand. This is why we always ask our customers to choose an area of specialisation in their product offerings. We always focus on selling solutions and products that help our customers be unique in the market and help them get business.
“You need to be different and have a better product offering that will help you to secure business. I see some of the printers that they are not doing well and complaining about the market always, at the same time I also see some of the printers doing very well in the same market.”
Talking about his team, Jayakrishna said, “most of my team members have been around for more than 10 years. I have been working with the company for the last 17 years. We are a very open-minded company. Moving forward in the near future, I see a portion of the company being owned by the employees. For a change, we are not strict with many of the things at the office. It gives the team much freedom and at the same time much responsibility.”
Signing off, Jayakrishna suggested, “my advice to the printers is to be unique with your product offering. How to be Unique is again a question that the printer must answer by himself. Environmental regulations will also open up new markets for printers with applications that were earlier catered by plastic. E-commerce will also open up newer applications for printers.”

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