Excerpted from the February 14, 2000 issue
"Finding the right words, in record time: TransPerfect writes winning ticket with accurate, quick translations"
When Liz Elting-Burlant and Phil Shawe launched TransPerfect Translations in a New York University dorm room in 1992, they already knew all too much about cost containment. They had pared their food bill to $1 a day. With $5,000 in cash advances on their credit cards, the fledgling co-presidents were ready, and starving, for business.
What they quickly stumbled across was literally a gold mine in the making. In order to win approval for a proposed gold mine in Russia, Cyprus Amax Minerals Co. needed a 500-page document translated into Russian in just nine days. Other translation companies, though, had already turned the project down flat, deeming it impossible. Not TransPerfect.
It was an audacious stroke that not only paid off but set a lucrative pattern of meeting tight deadlines while still delivering top-quality work. Last year, that formula boosted TransPerfect's revenue to nearly $15 million. It currently has a fulltime staff of 120, plus a far-flung group of 3,600 independent linguists it can call upon in a pinch.
Today, it operates out of 11 U.S. offices, including its Manhattan headquarters, plus three more offices in São Paulo, London and Paris. Late last year, the duo started another company, translations.com, to handle a rising tide of Web site translation work.
"They're not the typical translation company, with that kind of growth," says Walter Bacak, executive director of the American Translators Association in Alexandria, VA.
To break out as it has, TransPerfect has sold customers on the quality as well as the speed of its service. The company in turn has made it clear to its staffers that commitment means never missing deadlines and not making mistakes. That approach follows the pattern established with Cyprus Amax.
After landing that job, Ms. Elting-Burlant and Mr. Shawe began working the phones, spending 48 hours straight lining up a special team of translators expert in both Russian and geology. The pair flew the translators in from all over the country and set them up in hotels.
A million words
Having established a reputation as a specialist in turning projects around quickly, TransPerfect has reaped rich rewards. For instance, when Exxon and Mobil merged in late 1998, they turned to TransPerfect to translate a million words in less than two weeks.
The sheer pace of the expansion of their firm has posed major problems for Ms. Elting-Burlant, 33, and Mr. Shawe, 30, in their efforts to maintain high quality and a high level of customer service. "When it was just Liz and me, we had control over every aspect of it - the translator, the editor, the proofreader," says Mr. Shawe.
To maintain that quality, the pair has promoted top managers exclusively from within. These managers all trained directly with the co-founders.
As an additional quality check, Ms. Elting-Burlant and Mr. Shawe triple-team each project—with a translator, an editor and a proofreader. TransPerfect also requires translators to be certified by the American Translators Association.
Translator Alan Gleason, president of the Translators and Interpreters Guild, a labor union, first worked for TransPerfect four years ago. He calls Ms. Elting-Burlant and Mr. Shawe "quite competent."
More important, he notes that the company has a good reputation when it comes to dealing with freelance linguists, a factor that helps them hire the best translators available.
For all of their success, TransPerfect's founders are left with some regrets. "Our goals when we set out from the dorm room were to have an office in every major gateway city in the world, to become the FedEx of the translation industry," says Mr. Shawe.
On the other hand, TransPerfect is barely 8 years old.
With revenue of over $250 million, TransPerfect is the largest privately held language services provider in the world. From offices in 66 cities on 5 continents, TransPerfect offers a full range of services in over 100 languages to multinationals worldwide. With a global network of over 4,000 linguists and subject-area specialists, TransPerfect is the largest translation company to be fully ISO 9001:2008 and EN 15038:2006 certified. TransPerfect is headquartered in New York and has regional headquarters in London and Hong Kong. For more information, please visit our website at www.transperfect.com.