Guest post: Do translation customers really care what kind of people they’re buying from? November 18, 2014Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Translation.
I don’t normally accept guest posts, but I am making an exception for this one. This needs to be heard and discussed.
Guest post by Terena Bell of In Every Language.
Maybe people really don’t care. That’s what I thought this morning as I got out of bed and read today’s news on my cell phone. Maybe people don’t care, maybe they don’t want a better world, maybe there are no rewards for the good or punishment for the bad.
I’ve written in my MultiLingual Magazine column before about how American culture is trending so that people no longer want to spend money at businesses where they find the owner’s behavior deplorable. Well, I’m writing this blog to say that I was wrong. Or at least I was wrong about how or when this particular macrotrend would affect our industry.
See, there’s this little thing going on right now — maybe you’ve heard of it — Crain’s New York is calling it the TransPerfect Storm. I’ve got to admit, the title’s catchy. For those of you who haven’t seen the press, Liz Elting and Philip Shawe, co-owners of translation giant TransPerfect, are going at it in the courts, in the office, in the breakroom — pretty much everywhere these two can find a place to disagree, according to Crain’s, they’re doing it. And it’s not just Crain’s reporting the story either. It’s The New York Post and The New York Daily News, too. And when The Daily News – which let’s face it, is pretty much a fancy tabloid – starts covering the story you know it’s salacious.
According to Crain’s, the two owners “are suing each other for malfeasance and mismanagement, and each wants the other thrown out of the company. The parties have asked a judge to break the deadlock, and a hearing is scheduled for Nov. 18.” The translation industry will be watching today’s results with bated breath.
See, here’s the thing: Many in the translation industry have thought for years that Elting and Shawe are not what most people would call good people. Multiple media reports of Elting kicking Shawe with her heels and pouring coffee on him during work, all the media reports of the f-you emails back and forth, filing restraining orders against the other, all these reports of what – if true – is clearly unprofessional, childish behavior, well juicy as the news maybe, it’s not a surprise to many who work in translation for a living.
In October of 2013, the blog TranslationEthics.com called TransPerfect a “sweatshop” because of the well below standard rates it pays its translators. As far back as 2011, a different blog, TransPerfect Translation Concerns, reported, “It’s only a matter of time [before] a hungry investigative reporter will has burst the … TransPerfect PR bubble [sic], and release some less than glowing information.” Well, that time is now.
So here’s my question, and here’s what has me writing a blog entry before breakfast: Do clients even care? Court documents for the case claim Fortune 100 clients have either threatened to pull or have already pulled over $20 million worth of work. But there’s a big difference between threatening to yank your business and actually doing it. In the sales meetings I’ve been in with current TransPerfect customers, the topic hasn’t even come up. As a TransPerfect competitor, I haven’t had a single client come to me saying, “Oh my, their ethics are horrible, they’re just not good people.“ Have you?
You don’t become the kind of person who would assault your ex-fiance at work overnight. Nor do you develop so much hate for someone overnight that you would sue them in open court to the detriment of your own business. No. If the press is revealing who the owners of TransPerfect are, if this scandal is revealing the way they live their lives, then they have been the people they are for quite some time. Any client kickback now is simply because the world finally sees Elting and Shawe for who they apparently are. But where is the kickback really?
Maybe I’m wrong. What do you think? Will TransPerfect actually lose business because of this? Will clients actually leave? Do translation customers really care what kind of people they’re buying from?
Terena Bell is the chief executive officer of In Every Language, a language services provider offering translation, interpreting, and localization. She served on the Association of Language Companies Leadership Council. She is a member of the Obama Administration’s White House Business Roundtable, which has taken calls from the president and the vice-president, as well as senior advisors and members of the Cabinet. She writes the “Micro/Macro” column for MultiLingual Magazine, and has been quoted by Inc., Forbes, and CNN Money.