— Supported by RWS —
Shaping Custom Solutions
University of Life
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES
I ran over 3,000 miles in a year. That’s the equivalent of running from London to Azerbaijan — never again!
One size does not fit all” is a truism that James Taylor — the regional vice president for RWS client services in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) — knows well after over 20 years in the localization industry. Whether it’s identifying ways to improve workflow efficiency or determining how to leverage AI technology, Taylor leads a team dedicated to providing solutions to help each client achieve its goals in localization and beyond.
People often find themselves in the language industry thanks to unexpected opportunities. Was that true for you, or was it a more intentional direction?
My route into the industry is probably quite unconventional as I didn’t have the same background in languages as many of my colleagues. In truth, it all happened a bit by luck and happenstance. I studied French and Spanish at school and college, but ultimately, a lot of my interests at the time focused around the graphic design space. I’d originally applied for a place at university, and intended to defer and take a year out. But during that year, I saw an advert for a role at SDL, where I ultimately started in a desktop publishing position. At the time, I thought it would be good to get a bit more practical experience. And, I guess that I did, as I’m still here some 21 years later. (SDL was acquired by RWS in November 2020.) I didn’t really know a great deal about translation and localization when I joined, but rather obviously, I’ve learned an awful lot since. That’s how I got into this line of work — a bit different from the normal route that most people take.
Why did you end up staying in the language industry?
One of the things that really struck me early on was how diverse the environment was — lots of different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences within the business. When I joined SDL, the company was structured very differently from the way localization companies are structured now. I was based in Maidenhead, and within that location, you would have a translator for Japanese, a translator for German, and a translator for Chinese. You’d have project managers, desktop publishers, and engineers. All of these specialist roles existed within one office. You would be interacting with all these different skills and levels of knowledge and expertise. So it was a very rich experience for me.
My viewpoint on the industry changed as I began to appreciate how much localization impacts our day-to-day world. When you open up an instruction manual, you will typically see content in multiple languages, or you can switch on Netflix and immediately select whichever language you want subtitled. In the past it had never really resonated with me that all this content transformation has to happen somewhere. It was a great feeling to know that I was working for a company that enabled everyone globally to connect.
Do you still do any graphic design work?
It’s funny, because part of what we do day-to-day is communicating with and presenting information to our customers. So, it’s kind of a running joke with my team that I have relatively high expectations regarding the formatting of slide decks and the way things are presented. I’m a visual person to the point that when conversing with people, I like to see something visually to help explain it or even to get on a whiteboard and draw stuff up. That definitely works a lot better for most people than just talking conceptually.
Could you tell us a little about what your job as regional vice president of client services in EMEA entails?
The EMEA client services team is made up of around 160 people, largely project and program managers, who provide the main communication point for our customers. They help to define, guide, and implement the right sort of localization process for that customer. And as every customer is unique and requires a localization solution that is adapted to their business needs, it can become quite complex. But our goal is to take the hassle away from them. We want to make sure that what we’re doing allows them to focus on what matters most for them, and that’s not always localization. So, enabling them to focus on other initiatives and letting us get on with what we specialize in is often very helpful.
In terms of the customer base, we have customers in automotive, manufacturing, high-tech, travel, and retail — amongst many others, but the mix is constantly changing. And while our footprint is mainly European, we are seeing several more emerging markets and customers across the Middle East and Africa. That’s what’s most exciting for me now: that shift towards Africa and the Middle East. How do we make sure that we’re in a position to support those customers and regions?
How might you adapt your approach to those regional and market dynamics?
From a project management perspective, many customers still feel more comfortable communicating in their local language, so when we’re assembling the project management team, we have to make sure that we’ve got representation in each of our key locations. As we expand further into the MEA region, we want to make sure that we have that local touch and local connection. It helps in terms of not only understanding the challenges and nuances in the country but also making the customer feel a lot more comfortable liaising with us.
I think everyone is aware of the rising inflation and budgetary pressures that are pretty much worldwide, impacting the customer’s localization strategy. So, we’ve been really focusing on looking at new and innovative ways to try and save our customers money without impacting quality.
We’re also extending our support beyond pure localization activities, taking in the digital and rich media space. When I started 20-odd years ago, projects would last for a long time, and you’d have several offline processes to manage them. Now, everything’s on demand; it needs to be done at a far more rapid pace. It’s more visual. So you’ve got something of a perfect storm taking place, with pressure on budgets at the same time as the ongoing explosion of content, much of which needs to be localized. Unsurprisingly it can be quite challenging. So, we’ve been looking at how best to manage and optimize end-to-end workflows for our customers and, at the same time, creating and offering different ranges of services that meet the different requirements.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities for your team in the future?
It’s hard to have any conversation without mentioning AI. It’s the new reality. I think AI is fueling debate, but it should be seen as a challenge and also as an opportunity. AI can be slightly misunderstood, or at least the maturity of AI, what it does, and what it has to offer. Sometimes, customers feel like there should already be something out of the box that will change how they localize their content, almost as if by magic! The reality is we’ve been using AI for many years, and it is something that we’re continuing to build into many of our technology offerings. Finding tangible ways to influence and improve a customer’s experience can only be done in tandem with the customer. We need to understand what their specific challenges are and work with them to develop a hybrid AI-human model that will enable us to get the benefits that they’re looking for. There’s a lot of research and development still in progress, and it’s more a question of ensuring we bring customers along the journey. We figure it out together rather than essentially picking something off of the menu and delivering it.
What lessons have you learned since taking on this leadership role?
Communication is probably the most important factor. Going through COVID really brought a strong focus on communication because, with social distancing and remote work, you had to make more of a deliberate attempt to engage positively with colleagues and customers. And to a certain extent, that is still true because we’re not in a world where we’re all back full-time in the office. So, I think communication is absolutely key.
The other thing is: Don’t take anything for granted. Markets change, customers change, your team changes, and you’re not always in control of all the factors that can affect you. But you need to keep yourself honest, challenge your perceptions and make every effort to ensure that you’re doing things in the right way. And of course, lead by example.
As a leader, you must give your team the right environment, one that allows them to succeed. It’s important that you give individuals the right level of responsibility and accountability that they deserve.
And, finally, stay humble. If it weren’t for some of the fantastic people and the teams that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, I definitely wouldn’t be in the role that I am today. You are only ever as good as your team. I have a lot to thank some of the colleagues that I’ve worked with over the years.
Outside of work, what do you most enjoy doing?
I’m a bit sports-mad, to be honest. I enjoy running and playing a bit of football and golf. I also enjoy watching sports and spending time with my family. I’ve always liked traveling, but that’s become slightly harder with two young children — not impossible, but definitely less relaxing.
Organizations today find themselves dealing with an ever-growing volume, velocity, and variety of multilingual content and data. Digital transformation, including the recent rapid advancements in…→ Continue Reading
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