Parlez vous francais? Gene Schriver, executive vice president of No. 2236 on the Inc. 5000, Language Services Associates in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, doesn't speak a lick of French, but it never stops him from effortlessly communicating with foreign business associates, and, at times, cabbies.
'Say you're in Paris, and can't speak to your taxi driver because he only speaks French. Simply select French on your iPhone application, enable your speakerphone and you'll be communicating within seconds,' says Schriver, 39, referring to a pioneering telephone interpreting service called InterpreTalk that his $18 million-company created.
A lawyer by trade, Schriver initially intended to make a 'career pit stop in 2000, at the small, but profitable language company, but I soon realized the potential,' he says. He convinced his mother and company founder Laura Schriver that they needed to grow. An idea she wasn't completely in love with at the time.
'Nearly 10 years later, we have grown tenfold, and that success is a testament to her willingness to risk investing in my, and our executive team's, completing unproven track record in building a company,' Gene Schriver says.
Welcome to the world of translation services and localization -- a multibillion-dollar global market, where companies help bridge the communication gap between clients, businesses and individuals. Many of the high-growth companies on our Inc. 500|5000 list have thrived in this niche area that offers a suite of services from document translation to website localization to multilingual court reporting to oral interpretation.
These companies help bridge the communication gap between clients and businesses worldwide. They understood early on that in a global economy, clear, concise, communication is everything.
Companies like Shriver's have changed the game. 'Anyone can have the technical capacity to communicate, serve, or buy something, anywhere on the planet,' says Shriver, whose company has grown 300 percent growth over the past five years. 'But just because you have a phone or computer doesn't mean you can actually communicate. Our goal has been to change that, and should we continue to be successful, the impact could be massive.'
Another example of growth is No. 1790 on the Inc. 5000, TransPerfect, a New York-based company that strives to be a one-stop shop for companies that need to conduct business on a global scale, says co-founder and CEO Liz Elting.
With $200 million in revenue in 2008, TransPerfect is one of the largest privately-held language services company in the world. 'We used to focus exclusively on document translation, but our clients started demanding more,' says Elting, who grew up watching her father own and operate a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Portugal.
Now the company offers everything from patent translation to multilingual court reporting to desktop publishing services for annual reports.
With 57 offices around the world and 1,125 employees, 'We never take a day off," Elting says proudly. "We can place any size job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year."
The need for fast turnaround in the translation services industry is what sparked the entrepreneurial interest of Jiri Stejskal, president and CEO of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania-based CETRA Language Solutions, No. 1586 on the Inc. 5000.
While completing a doctorate degree in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pennsylvania, 'A large Philadelphia law firm approached me with a request to translate thousands of pages in an international litigation case," says Stejskal, now 48. 'I incorporated the next day and contracted every single Czech translator in the U.S. and Canada to work on the case."
About half of the company's $2.7 million in revenue comes from the federal government, with law, marketing research, and life sciences firms responsible for the rest.
CERTA's revenue may seem relatively modest compared to the other companies on this year's Inc. 500|5000 list, but the company has grown 458 percent over the past five years, and with sales expected to reach $10 million by 2012, Stejskal remains confident.
'We're growing because we are responsive and because we are able to build trust with our clients,' Stejskal says of his 12-full-time employees and hundreds of consultants. 'Our tagline is ‘Our word, your peace of mind.' The client typically cannot judge the quality of the translation, so trust is very important. Trust is built by consistent delivery of high quality service on time and on budget.'
In looking at the language-related companies on this year's list, several trends emerge:
- A steady demand for the translation of Chinese and other Asian languages.
- A growing call for linguists with Eastern European expertise.
- A strong need for interpretation of the romance languages.
- A surge of call centers opening in India, increasing clinical trials being conducted in Eastern Europe, and increased manufacturing throughout the Far East.
- An increasing demand for translation due to the volume of Internet content growing exponentially.
David Smith, president of Inc. 5000 No. 893 LinguaLinx in Cohoes, New York, agrees with Solomon's assessment that technology has played a pivotal role in the growth of the language translation industry. His company takes existing documents, Websites, and multimedia, and adapts the material into as much as 100 other languages.
'Technology has played a role in making the world smaller and increasing the need for multilingual communication,' says the 41-year-old sole owner. 'Also, the diversity of the U.S. adds to the need for translated materials.
So what's next for the translation company that expects revenue to hit $20 million to $30 million over the next couple of years? Diversification. They are adding a new division that provided documentation consulting services.
A former U.S. Army leader, E. Smith Yewell of Welocalize, No. 1113 on the Inc. 5000, always dreamed of owning his own business. With a background in pharmaceutical sales, he knew he could pitch, he just needed the right product. Realizing the potential of the World Wide, he started Welocalize, which translates documents, websites and software applications into foreign languages in 1997. 'The Internet is global and growing. The whole world does not speak English and the content needs to be translated,' says Yewell.
The St. Frederick, Maryland-based CEO says he attributes the company's 'growth to the hard work of our staff and the loyalty of our clients. There is an increasing demand for translation because the volume of content on the Internet is growing exponentially.'
With a staff of 425 employees, and revenues of $50 million in 2008, Yewell, 50, expects to stay the course by 'exceeding our clients' expectations, offering unique products such as our open-source Translation Management System, and attracting and retaining the best staff in the industry,' he says.
For Craig Buckstein, COO and partner of Geneva Worldwide, a 106-year-old company in New York and No. 2757 on the Inc. 5000, helping clients bridge the communication gap in person, over the phone or through documents is the reason his company is so successful. 'We are a full-service language provider for private industry and government contracts,' says Buckstein, 30. Their bread and butter comes from providing linguists for interpretation services, document translation, language assessment and localization.
Although the staff is relatively small, there are plans to increase that number to 50 over the next few years. The company's employees speak about 12 different languages, 'but other than that, we leave the language specialties to professional linguists who offer over 180 different dialects of services from over 4,000 linguists globally,' says Buckstein.
Even with its success, the company is weathering the current economy with eye on cost control. 'Tightening up receivables in times of economic trouble is the key to overcoming the financial problem as is a healthy working relationship with lenders.' As a result, the third-generation family-run enterprise is on track to earn $6.5 million in revenue by year's end.
Luis de la Vega has never been one to worry about failing at business. After 35 years as the CEO of Inc. 5000 No. 2539 Professional Translating Services in Miami, 'We have made sure not to take any unnecessary risks, while at the same time assuring that we grow year after year,' he says.
That strategy translates into a 10 percent to 20 percent growth rate year after year over the past five years. And most of that boom was from referrals and word of mouth, says Vega, 62. 'Only recently did we establish a sales department. I'm proud to say that many of our clients have been with us for over 25 years.'
For Vega, who is fluent in nine languages including Spanish, Yiddish, German, and Italian, starting Pro Translation fulfilled a community void rather than a business imperative.
After graduating from Florida State University with a Ph.D. in modern languages, 'I saw a need to provide the ever-increasing immigrant population in Miami with quality language services,' Vega says. Today, the 100-employee firm offers translations, interpreting, and voice-over services for clients that range from individuals to the major corporations.
When asked why this industry is on fire, Buckstein of Geneva Worldwide quipped: 'As long as governments and businesses try to communicate their messages and services to the citizens of the world, there will be the need for language services.'