Reflections on the language industry

After almost 21 years of participating in setting up and building it into (in my less than strictly neutral opinion) one of the most dynamic and promising companies in our industry, I departed from Moravia this summer. My calendar is now free from appointments, goals, plans and deadlines related to localization projects and work at Moravia. Now, I have the opportunity to reflect on everything that has taken place, and this gives me the opportunity to share a few of the things I have learned over the years. Let me stress, however, that this is a very personal account. The opinions expressed are mine only, and are not necessarily those of Moravia or any of its employees or shareholders.

Hence, please allow me to express my views from the perspective of an entrepreneur. I have great respect and admiration for the intellectuals, experts and other professionals in our field, such as translators, engineers and the many specialists who participate in delivering localization projects. In my case, however, my primary responsibility was to build business solutions for our clients, and I needed to keep in mind that the purpose of any business is to generate wealth for its shareholders.

I think this has been a challenge that many business owners face in our industry. Many former linguists and translators who have a prospering business struggle to find the balance of the three fundamentals to growth and prosperity: financial discipline, operational performance and professional sales. By professional sales, I mean a well-defined process, a business function that is integrated with the clients in mind and is executed accordingly.

I have been inspired by many of the sales people in our industry, but only a few of those I have met truly embrace the responsibility and commitment that this job requires. Only a few have had the capability to look beyond commission schemes and the career focus to look, above all, for solutions. To simultaneously create and increase value for both clients and employees is a hard undertaking.

As I mentioned, I have been fortunate to have met some very inspiring professionals in sales. However, the sales teams in our industry have cost their own companies a significant and growing amount of resources, and unfortunately, inflated compensation is a major obstacle in the expansion of services for many small and mid-size players in localization services. Because of this, I think we will move into a more transparent model where value creation as well as total costs of delivery will point to where long-term gains can be achieved.

Financial discipline is not about having a good accountant; it is about a well-managed cash flow when growing your business. It’s about earnings before interest payments, tax, depreciation and amortization. It is the responsibility of the owner to make sure he or she understands and manages the numbers, and this also applies to many clients with their departments and units facing the same reality as their counterparts on the supply side.

At this juncture, it might be appropriate to mention project managers. Today, just the same as 20 years ago, I think being a project manager is the single most difficult, but also the most rewarding, profession in our industry. The work of a project manager could mean the difference in profitability, quality and timely delivery. I also think that for project managers there will be growing importance placed on managing people, as opposed to managing files and processes.

Technology, of course, will play an important role in future processes and innovation. This topic is to me as exciting as supply chains, or what supply chains will evolve into in the future, but that is a topic for another day