(Cover Story-2) Unravelling K.S. Ramakrishnan a.k.a RAM!

Mr Ram_ImageIt may be a coincidence, but in the digital world, when you look up the significance of ‘RAM’ . . . several phrases come up.

“More RAM means better multi-tasking . . . It is essentially the core of your computer . . . it can be considered as important as your processor. . . With the right amount of RAM, your performance is optimized!”

One can’t help seeing a parallel in the ‘optimal performance’ of DEI, and the amazing man who made it all happen, and who is essentially the  ‘core’ of DEI.

A serial  entrepreneur, K. S.  Ramakrishnan, affectionately known as RAM, founded a company in 2004, which grew into a flourishing $80 million global business.  It evolved from a single location in Dubai, and grew to cover 15 countries spanning three continents.  

The company was DEI, and at its ‘core’ was Ram, the CEO and President of DEI Holdings.

Ram ushered in a new era in the conventional print photography business and digitally transformed it into an end-to-end imaging services and solutions model. He is committed to building ‘enterprise-wide’ expertise focused on aggregating images across attractions for every individual guest. This enables efficient archiving and swift retrieval and sharing of pictures at the touch of a button. 

A prudent entrepreneur, Ram’s business acumen can be measured by the success he achieved across various business verticals. He spearheads BDC Holdings Inc., a $150 million business group, with diverse interests that include advertising, marketing solutions, digital imaging, and even retail and hospitality, with an award-winning chain of F & B under his belt. 

In early 2019, DEI partnered with Thomas Cook India (TCI) Group, a subsidiary company of the prestigious Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited. Post this collaboration in the travel and tourism ecosystem, Ram intends to strengthen DEI’s position in existing markets while giving it extensive reach to expand.

 Ram was born in India and is an alumnus of Mumbai University. He resolutely believes in the concept of creating real sustainable value with a strong focus on investing in human capital. As a testimony to this principle, he has built a strong team of leaders who have imbibed his passion and paved the path for DEI Holdings to scale new heights. Whether it is images of newborns, kindergarten and school photos, graduations, weddings and events photography, and vacation memories, his vision is to encompass every single imaging opportunity across the lifecycle of an individual.

What an incredible journey.

We sent a questionnaire to this amazing path-breaker, to know a bit more about him, and asked him to elaborate on the new connection between DEI and the Thomas Cook India Group.

Here’s what he has to say:

Thomas Cook has described its 51% acquisition of DEI as “an entry into an adjacent sector, complementary to its travel and travel-related services portfolio”. Can you tell us what key markets you have in common, and how would they complement each other?

The attractions industry is adjacent to the travel business, which is expected to grow in line with the tourism industry. The significant common key markets that DEI and the Thomas Cook Inbound & Outbound companies operate in, are the UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, China, India, Mauritius, Maldives, and the USA. 

The key attractions partnered by DEI, like the Burj Khalifa, Ski Dubai, Petronas Twin Towers, Venetian Macau, Atlantis Sanya, just to name a few, are also attractions visited by TCIL customers and SOTC’s outbound businesses. So a clear opportunity lies in to bundle photography services and elevate the overall guest experience.

What synergies do both the companies share? What benefits would Thomas Cook reap from DEI, and what advantage would DEI have with its association with the Indian company?

 When it comes to the attractions industry, Thomas Cook is the facilitator and DEI is the operator. TCIL will bring in the guests and we will capture their priceless moments. The biggest synergy, therefore, is the traveller himself.

Our partnership helps leverage TCIL’s travel services across 25 countries. With a growing demand for experiential travel and social sharing, our associations with all the iconic attractions will only enhance Thomas Cook’s travel services portfolio in line with their philosophy to create long term shareholder value.

And the partnership immediately strengthens DEIs position in existing markets while giving an immense reach to expand in newer geographies.

Can you explain in layman’s terms, for our staff, what Digiphoto Entertainment Imaging actually does? What is its USP? How does it work?

DEI provides imaging solutions for the attractions industry. DEI captures and delivers memorable moments of guests visiting various attractions, theme parks, and resorts across the globe, to cherish for life. 

Our USPs are our operational prowess and monetizable technology. We have a team of enthusiastic folks who are passionate about the work they do, and who are driven to shoulder responsibilities on their own.

Keeping an eye on the future embarking on Artificial Intelligence, we are in the process of setting up a Facial Recognition solution which will revolutionize the Imaging Industry.

We own several Intellectual Properties, many of which are cutting-edge image processing technologies. It helps in keeping pace with the digital age, be it by embedding augmented reality on images or even providing an immersive experience for our guests. For e.g. if you’re visiting Burj Khalifa, you can have your image taken at the top, and by the time you come down, you will have your video ready with the Burj Khalifa as the backdrop with dazzling fireworks. Or enjoy photo prints where you are striking a Tom Cruise pose scaling the tower, just like in Mission Impossible!

 With smart phones with ever smarter built-in cameras, and state-of-the-art DSLRs, why would a traveller or customer want to buy what you provide?  How is it better or different from what they themselves can do?

 With the rise of smart phones, people are clicking more pictures than ever, with over a trillion images captured in 2018 itself. We enhance the quality of these captures by providing guests with a high-end platform.  

Elevating the overall guest experience when they are having a memorable moment at an attraction is our primary focus. We capture their moment with the highest quality of service so that they don’t have to worry about anything else. Be it instantly printing their memories, or embedding augmented reality on their images or providing them an immersive experience with our Chroma key solutions, we awe them with a keepsake that they can cherish for life.

 Can you tell us a bit more about the business model? You mentioned in a radio interview, that DEI “has a trajectory for growing the business 4.5 times its current size in the next 5 years. You said this would meet the holding company Fairfax’s criterion of investing in cash positive, consistently profitable businesses.  Can you elaborate a bit on this for us?

There are currently 3 operating models in place.

  1. The end-to-end model where we provide the equipment, the software, the staff at partner sites and manage the entire process.
  2. The consultation model, where the site is managed by partner employees and we provide the equipment, the software, and the operational expertise.
  3. The software licensing model where we license the software for an annual license fee/share of the revenue for the software and the partner fully operates the souvenir imaging business.

 With our planned organic growth in the existing and new locations, there will be a twofold increase in our business. In addition, we are looking at inorganic growth in emerging opportunities like school photography. For us, it is a mine full of possibilities which will help us strengthen our business.

DEI shall continue to be profit accretive, as it has been since Day 1. It’s how we operate and also one of the reasons why we came under Fairfax’s spotlight. 

Can you tell us something more about DEI’s KlassAkt, the school photography arm? What are its objectives?  Would Thomas Cook be involved in it in any way? 

Imagine being able to visually capture and archive the important moments of a student’s journey through their entire educational lifespan, from kindergarten to graduation. That is KlassAkt! We document the many milestones along life’s path beginning with Preschool, on to K-12 and College.  Whether through class activities, sports, celebrations and graduations, our mission is to give students, parents, and families the opportunity to visit their past like a storybook.

In under 2 years, we have secured approximately 100 educational establishments in the UAE and India.  Capturing that perfect smile or shining moment through superb photography is what will make the word “KlassAkt” synonymous with “School Photography” across the globe. Being able to create a record of the entire student’s journey fits into our larger objective of encompassing every single imaging opportunity across the lifecycle of an individual.

 The opportunity is huge for a company like Thomas Cook, who has perfected the guest experience and journey from A-Z. Partnering with KlassAkt gives us a road map to make a perfect representation of each student’s journey and inevitably secures the retention of clients.  It’s a synergy unparalleled in terms of relevance.  

And now a few questions on the personal and lighter side… just to get to know you better!

 When you are not thinking about DEI, you chill out by —Thinking more about DEI lol!  I enjoy listening to old school tunes, and ignoring my daughter’s and wife’s pleas to change the genre.

From all the numerous locations DEI has, your favourite holiday destination would be..?
None where work beckons. My favorite one would be a health retreat in the Swiss Alps.

 Four things you always pack when going on a trip are — Headphones, colognes, mobile device, and of course, my peace of mind.

 On your bedside table one would find — My daughter’s photo, and while I am asleep, my watch, mobile phones and glasses too.

 For comfort food, you reach out for — A scoop of Häagen-Dazs. You can also find me going nuts over nuts.

 If you had one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

 If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My anxiety

 A message from DEI for our staff in Thomas Cook India?
It’s a quote by Helen Keller that I have always believed in, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” So let’s get together create a beautiful future.