David Noël: Hello and welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based in our wonderful province. I’m David Noël.
Today’s guest founded a company called Parenty-Reitmeier Translation Services, which—surprisingly enough—offers translation services. I love interviewing the leaders behind businesses like this, because most people have never heard of them and yet they are absolutely world-class, in this case translating important technical documents for huge companies like Honda and Harley. Of course, it’s extra nice when the leader is as humble and forthcoming as this one.
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Without further ado, here is Jean-Pierre Parenty.
[to Jean-Pierre] Thanks so much for joining me, doing the interview. To get started, tell us a little bit about your business: What does your business do? What’s it even called? [laughs]
Jean Pierre Parenty: Parenty Reitmeier is a translation company, we provide translation from one language to another, of documents mostly technical, marketing, and commercial documents. The bulk of our clients are people who manufacture things, and their documentation, their owner manuals, their marketing material, their website, everything that they communicate with needs to be translated into the language of the country they’re going into. We work in over a hundred languages. We work also in aboriginal languages, local aboriginal languages as well as Inuit languages, which is a sector that’s growing quite well for us as well.
We don’t do voice interpretation. When you go to a conference and somebody has voice, that’s called interpretation. We’re in the translation business, so everything we do is written or published.
However, we do translate a lot of videos, training videos for our clients, marketing videos, where there was a script, originally read in English when it was read into the video recorder. We translate that script, and we have a recording studio here in our building where we lift the English out of that video and do a voiceover in French, Spanish, German, whatever language they need.
We do quite a bit of voiceover work for videos as well, but it’s still considered part of the translation world, not the interpretation world.
David: When did you start the business? How long ago was that?
Jean Pierre: In June of 1992, so it’s a little over 23 years ago now.
David: Wow. That’s a long time. What was your background before that?
Jean Pierre: I was a grain trader.
David: Oh, you’re kidding.
Jean Pierre: I worked in the grain industry for a couple of large companies, then eventually was as a local, which means an independent trading from my own account on the floor of the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange…
Jean Pierre: …those guys that yell and scream and make those funny sounds. So that’s what I did, and, at one point in time in ’92, I said this is high stress and a lot of risk, and I didn’t want to do that anymore, so I stopped.
That’s how this business started; I stopped and just went home not knowing what I was going to do next, but I knew that I wasn’t going to continue trading.
Within the first week, the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange called me because they had been trying to get some brochures and some documentation about futures trading and commodities contracts translated into French to go to Quebec to do some marketing.
But proper translation isn’t about words. It’s about understanding a concept and an idea to be able to rewrite it in the other language. When people just translate words, that’s when you get those goofy translations that you read and you go, “Boy, this is silly.”
The Winnipeg Commodity Exchange had gone to about three local translation companies. They said, “Can you translate this?” And they went, “Futures trading, futures contracts. We can’t understand. We don’t have a clue what this means in English, so we can’t rewrite it in French. We can’t translate it properly.”
My first language is French. I learned English at school. When I went to grade one, I didn’t know a word of English, so I went to English immersion. That’s not what it was called back then, but it’s the same as the kids learning French immersion today. That’s where I learned English is at school. My first language was and still is French. I’m still more comfortable in French than in English.
Of course, the Commodity Exchange knew that. They knew I had just left, and they knew that I had been trading these contracts for the last 15 years. I knew them like the back of my hand. They came to me, and they said, “Could you do us a favor and translate some stuff into French? We can’t find anybody to do it.” I said, “Sure, John. I’ll come and see you tomorrow.”
I thought I was just going to do him a favor and translate a couple of pages. I got there, and there was a stack about an inch thick that was paper. I went, “Wow. John, that’s a lot of work.” He says, “No problem. I’ll pay you.” I went, “That’s interesting. I’m sitting at home doing nothing. I’ll do it.” I delivered it three or four weeks later. I had a couple thousands bucks in my pocket from it for grocery money.
I thought, “This is fun. I wonder if there’s any more people that need translation until I find a real job.” I started asking around, and it started coming. It kept on coming, and it kept on coming. After three or four months, I’m like, “Wait a minute. Maybe I don’t need a real job. Maybe I can develop a business out of that.”
The first few projects, I translated myself, but quickly realized that I’m not a translator. It happened on the futures contract, that I was the right guy to do, but other than that, I’m not. I started finding translators to do the work.
On the other hand, I was finding clients who needed the work done, and I was a middle man that just acted between the translator and the supply and the demand.
That’s still what we do today. That started in my basement, 23 years ago on my own. Today, we have 40 people here full time in the office. None of them are translators. They just act as those middle men or middle people.
David: Really? None of your employees on site are translators?
Jean Pierre: No. There are no translators in this building, only people who manage the flow, the logistics, some quality control of the process. We manage the process. We don’t do any of the work. We just manage the process. Yet, we are a translation company.
All good translation companies do exactly that. Although, what we deliver is a properly translated text to the client. The value that we add to the process is proper management of the process.
David: I assume part of the reason that’s the case, when you said that all good translation companies are like that is because when they’re translating so many languages, it makes more sense to contract that depending on the job, rather than trying to hire in expertise for every language in-house. Is that it?
Jean Pierre: Exactly. It’s more efficient. There’s no way that you could have. We have about 600 translators that work for us. Very few of them full time. There are a couple of languages in Canada. We do a lot of French, quite a bit of Spanish for Latin America.
Those are our two biggest languages. We have some translators in those languages that work full time or nearly full time for us. In Turkish, we only need Turkish twice a year. We’re going to house somebody here in all year for two projects a year, or for other languages that we don’t do a lot of.
All of our translators work from home, wherever that is, in Argentina, France, Germany, Korea, or in Japan, wherever they are, or Iqaluit if it’s for Inuktikut. They all work from home. They’re all tied in here through a very powerful and robust computer and communication system. That’s how we work it.
David: Interesting. There’s a lot of follow up questions that I have with that. Let’s start with one that is probably something that anyone can relate to, anyone who’s in business. You said that once you did the translation for commodities exchange, you realize that you found other people that needed to work.
How did you go evocating those first couple of clients? It sounds like the first one came to you, and then after that, what happened?
Jean Pierre: The first one fell on my lap. Then, I said, “OK. Who else?” I knew the grain business. I had contacts in the grain business. I understood the grain business, and the grain terminology and all that, so I went after the grain company. I just picked up the phone and said, “Hi. I’m JP. You remember me? I want to do translation. Do you have a need?”
I went to all the local grain companies. I went to the Wheat Board. I went to the Canadian Grain Commission. I went to CIGI. I went to all my grain contacts in Winnipeg, and it started to flow in. One thing led to another. Then, we started to doing some translation for the farm equipment manufacturers, like MacDon and Buhler, which was called Versatile back then in people like that, and it just kept on growing.
The way I got clients 23 years ago, is the same way I still do today. I just pick up the phone, because it’s clear who my next customer is. By now, our biggest sector that we work for is the automotive industry. About 80 percent of our work is for people, who make things with motors and steering wheels, tractors, cars, trucks, snow wheels. I’m not steering that, but a lot of motorcycles.
David: Because of manuals and stuff, is that why?
Jean Pierre: Exactly.
Jean Pierre: The owner manual in your car that you never read, that’s what we translate. Then, for every owner manual that’s this big, there’s a service manual that’s 10 times bigger that goes to the dealership, that teaches the mechanic or the technician how to service the car, how to take out all the part and put it back together again. Those are highly technical, highly specialized.
That’s what we’ve developed a specialty in. That’s where a lot of our work is I see doing that. Back to the marketing part of it, we know that our clients are Harley Davidson, Honda, Mercedes, KIA, and Hyundai. I can keep on going, but we don’t have Toyota. Toyota’s not one of our customers. Well, guess what? Every once in a while, I pick up the phone.
I call Mr. Toyota, who happens to be…that’s not quite his name. I called the person responsible for Toyota Canada, and I’d say, “Hey, it’s me again. Are you ready to give us a try?” It’s simple stuff. It’s just pick up the phone. “Hi. I’m JP. How do you like me so far?” It’s not very fancy. It’s not a lot of fancy, technical marketing. It’s just pick up the phone, and ask for the order.
David: Who are you contacting at these companies? Mr. Toyota, what level in the organization is he?
Jean Pierre: Most of those companies have a person who is in charge of technical publications. Within a company like Toyota, Harley, or Honda, about 70 percent of the translation dollars that they spend is for the manuals, the owner manuals and service manuals, and that sort of technical publications. Another 20 to 25 percent will be in their training department.
We’re now at 95 percent. The last 5 percent is a bit of marketing, a bit of communication, when they need to write letters and those kind of things. We always target one of the two biggest buyers within that company, either the training department or the tech pubs department. We ask for the manager of both those, and you find out who they are.
We often find out who they are by going to conferences that assemble those people, the AEM in the States that assemble all the manufactures of equipment, such as John Deere, Caterpillar, Bobcat, and all those kind of people. You go, you hang out at those conferences, and you meet people and try to make a contact that you can follow up with.
Then, if you’re just calling Toyota in Toronto, you just find out who that name is. Once we know who it is, we do travel to Toronto because head offices in Canada are always or nearly always in Toronto. We travel to Toronto on a regular basis, and we go knocking on their door. We make an appointment ahead of time and try to convince them to give us a try.
Once they give us a try, we try to impress them and show them that we’re a good choice. Hopefully, that develops into a new customer.
David: What’s it look like to try to convince someone to switch their translation services? How do you make that a pain point for them? Presumably, they already have someone else who’s translating their technical documents. You need to somehow tell them that you’re better, right?
Jean Pierre: All the business we have here we stole from another translation company. There is new business, but…our perfect target is a company that buys a lot of translation, have bought it for a long time, so they understand the value and the needs and the quality. They understand all that. They’re a large company that buys a lot of translation for a long time and are dissatisfied with their current supplier.
Unless those three things are there, we’re not going to be doing well. When are they dissatisfied? We don’t have a clue. We’ll call probably Mr. Toyota, we’ll call him every three months and say, “How about now? No? No, not yet? No, not yet? No, not yet? Let’s talk.”
One of our biggest customers that we had, I knew from somebody else in the company, the tech pub’s manager kept telling me, “Everything’s great. I don’t need you yet.” Somebody else in the company was saying, “Yes, we do have problems. Sooner or later, it’s going to have to be addressed.” I called that company for three and a half years, every two or three months, saying, “How about it? Not yet?”
One day, he said, “Yeah, we need to talk.” I flew down and met him. We picked them up. That’s how we got into that company. “No” just means “Not yet.”
David: What does the competitive landscape look like for a company like yours?
Jean Pierre: It’s changed drastically over the last 20 years. When I first went to the conferences in Chicago and in Toronto to meet people, back then, you’d go to these conferences, and most of my work was done during the coffee breaks and lunches and stuff and meeting people.
Saying, “Where are you from? You’re from that company, this country. You guys do exporting? We do translation. How about talking?” Back then, they’d go, “Wow, translation. Am I ever glad I met you. Give me your card and call me next week. We really need help. We’re in trouble, and we need help.”
There wasn’t, back then, a lot of companies that were selling aggressively or the way I did, by going to the companies. Today, it’s changed drastically, where when I go to those conferences and talk and do the same thing and say, “What do you do? Do you need translation? I’m in the translation business.”
Usually they’ll say, “Yeah, translation. We’ve already met five people here in the last two days that want to sell me translation. I’ll take your card, but we’re fine.” The landscape has changed drastically. Technology has also changed our industry. That’s more on the production side.
But on the competitive side, back then, the largest company would probably have done–in the world–$30 to $50 million worth of sales. Today, they’re 10 times bigger. There’s a lot of consolidation happening in the translation industry.
Jean Pierre: The translation industry, worldwide, is $35 billion industry. It’s a very, very large industry, and there’s a lot of consolidation happening. There’s two or three major players that are going around, buying out medium sized companies like this one and consolidating the world.
Those people are people who have funds because they’ve traded on the New York Stock Exchange or on some world stock exchange, usually New York. Their pockets are very, very deep. They’re very organized, and they’re difficult to sell against. With that, because of that, we have had to change our approach.
We’ve always been a niche player, but we’re really pushing even more so towards different niches, smaller segments of the industry, that the great big Safeways and Sobeys of the world of translation aren’t going after. That’s working for us, but we’ve had to adapt.
David: Interesting. The niche thing always gets me. I had a mentor who would describe it as trying to be the best ice hockey player in Ecuador. If you can carve deep enough into something that no one else is shooting for, then you’ve got a chance.
Jean Pierre: I often use the grocery chain, and Safeway, as big as they are, just got swallowed up by Sobeys last year. It’s getting to be less and less players, and they’re huge. There’s the superstore and Costco and Sobeys. If you have a grocery store that tries to sell the same things the same way as Sobeys, you’re going to get killed.
But look at George Andrews on Academy Road. Look at De Nardi’s on Taylor. The more you go to that big, huge way of selling groceries, the more there’s a place for a niche player who sells special pates and special cheeses and a little bit of wine with it. Those guys, I know George Andrews very well. He does extremely well. Once in a while, I go to De Nardi’s because I drive by. Boy, that store is hopping.
The more the world goes towards the great, big corporations that seem to control the world of one industry or another–whether it’s petroleum or groceries or translation–the more that leaves room for people who will be smart about developing and working in niche. That’s what we’re working on.
David: You mentioned that there’s a lot of buy outs in the industry. Does that ever cross your radar? Do you ever think about that, about the possibility of getting bought out? Is that something that…
Jean Pierre: I’m getting closer to the age of retirement, so for sure, that’s part of something that I am aware of and that I continue to be aware of. We’ve been approached a couple of times. So far, we’ve decided not to do anything about it. But it’s part of the value of what you have.
I’m in my 60s now, so how much longer are am I going to go? Sooner or later, I need to do more golfing. That’s, for sure, part of my thinking, and I’m aware of it.
That’s one of the exit strategies for me. It’s not the only one and, at this point in time, probably not the one I’m going to take. But, I could take it.
David: Interesting. Switching gears a little bit…
Jean Pierre: One of the things that I keep talking to young, newer entrepreneurs is especially at your age or when you’re 25 or 30 years old starting up a new company very rarely do you think about your exit strategy. But you should, from day one, be thinking about your exit strategy. It may evolve and that may change over the next 30 years by the time it’s time to exit, but always develop your business with the exit strategy in mind.
David: Right, because one day you’re going to want to retire.
Jean Pierre: One day, you will want to retire. As exciting, as fun, as much work, and as thrilling as it is to build a company, one day you will want to retire. You need to build the company, so that it will be sellable, and you will be retirable. You may or may not pull the trigger, but you need to build it so that you are retirable.
David: That’s not something you hear very often. When you started that sentence, I thought you were going to say that you shouldn’t worry about your exit plan right away, and that you…
Jean Pierre: I’m not sure worry’s the right word, but you should be thinking about it. You should be planning it. You should definitely be planning it. You have to build…that was my strategy from the very beginning. When I said, “OK, I’m going to build a company out of this,” I wanted to build a machine–this company–that was going to make money, whether I was here or not.
As long as it only makes money while I’m here, I have nothing to sell. I have nothing to retire with. Dentists are highly paid hourly workers. If they take a week off, they don’t get paid that week, because they haven’t drilled any holes in any teeth. They have not built…and that’s not their industry.
Their industry, they are self employed. They’re not entrepreneurs, a self employed person. As long as your company that you build is simply an extension of yourself, you have not built a company. You’re still self employed.
David: Right, you’re building a job.
Jean Pierre: As soon as you can develop something that makes money around you, whether you’re there or not, and you have to continue to guide it and you have to continue to watch it, that’s all right.
But, if you can build something that’ll make money whether you’re there or not, now you have something that somebody else can buy and say, “Here’s a million bucks. I’m going to take that process that you’ve developed, that recipe you’ve written, and I’m going to just keep on doing that recipe. And I’m going to keep on getting the same cakes you used to have, because I’m just going to keep on going.”
I might even find a new icing, improve on that recipe, and make it a little bit better cake that you used to. At least I know that if I continue to follow your recipe, I will continue to make the same cakes, which are the profits in the bank. Now I have something that I can sell.
David: Going down that path a little bit, in your case, trying to build a business that you could extricate yourself from, I guess what that really comes down to, in large part, is how you build the organization around you. Is that right?
Jean Pierre: Absolutely.
David: How do you build a business that can function without just making someone else the person that the business depends on? Do you know what I mean? You don’t want to just build a business where now someone else is the linchpin. You want to build something that’s actually as self sustaining organization. How do you do that?
Jean Pierre: It’s about having clear processes written down and followed. Those processes, it’s that recipe that you keep on tweaking because you find a better way of doing this or that. Also, the environment around you changes. Therefore, you’re forever tweaking it.
It’s about having clear processes that are well written down. The organization is what? It’s just a bunch of people. If that’s what it is, get the best people possible. Make sure that everybody who’s working for you is smarter, better than you.
If I can do this part of the job better than you can, then why do I have you? I’m going to do it myself. I have to find, if this is the part of the job whether it’s the accounting, the selling, the marketing, the production whatever it is, everybody here in this company is better than me. I am the least capable person here.
I’ve surrounded myself with people who are all better than me. If they’re not better than me, why would I need them? Why would I do them? It’s about surrounding yourself with very smart, very good people, giving them process, giving them guidance.
My job is saying, “This is where we’re going, this is how we’re going to get to it, and this is what…” The guidance, the vision, that comes from me. But the process, the work, the everything else, that comes from them, and they’re all better than me.
David: You mentioned writing down processes.
Jean Pierre: Oh, yeah.
David: Are there binders full of your businesses processes somewhere?
Jean Pierre: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
David: You’re actually taking notes about how things are to be done, and then distributing them through your company?
Jean Pierre: There are a whole bunch of different processes we do here, from receiving a project from a client, going through all–and not every project’s the same–and then delivering it back. Even the invoicing, and the receiving of the checks and depositing them, everything is written down. If tomorrow, our accountant gets hit by a bus…
David: God forbid, by the way. [laughs]
Jean Pierre: Yeah, “Look both ways before you cross the street.”
If we need to replace our accountant, our desktop publisher, or whoever it is, there’s a process. We hire somebody else with experience, and we say, “This is how we do it. And if, by the way, you’ve can find a better way to do it, and if you think there’s things we can improve, tell us, and we’ll tweak that part of the recipe.”
But they are definitely written down.
David: It sounds like it’s part of your entire company’s culture or policy that everybody’s writing down their pieces and making adjustments to their own pieces as they go.
Jean Pierre: Correct, as they follow the processes that are already there, unless we have a brand new process over something that’s brand new for us. Then we’ll go through it, and that’s tedious to write down that process. But once you have that process on how to do this part of the project, you just give it to the people. You make them follow it
The beauty of that is that if you are sick tomorrow and you’re responsible for these five projects that are coming through the office right now, somebody else is handling six over here or seven and three, and you miss a couple days because you’re sick, the process doesn’t stop.
Somebody can easily take up your projects and go, “Oh, he’s at step number eight. Next step is this. The next step is that,” and the project continues, because we all follow here the same process on managing those translations and those projects. Therefore, it’s repeatable, it’s followable, it’s just a recipe, and you’re always, always making all the same cake.
Really, think about it. Some of the most successful companies in the world…if you go to McDonald’s in Winnipeg, in Vancouver, in Paris, in Moscow, or in Sydney, Australia, it’ll be the same burger everywhere.
In my opinion, it’s the same mediocre burger, but you know exactly, whether you’re walking into McDonald’s at Sydney, in Paris, or in Winnipeg, you know what you’re getting, because they all follow the same, same, same, same process. That’s what we’re doing here.
David: This leads me to another question that I wanted to ask. You had mentioned, as part of managing your large team of freelancers, that there’s some sophisticated IT stuff in place. Is that also tied into the process and project management kind of stuff that you’ve been describing?
Jean Pierre: We have a trainer here who works full time training people and developing processes. That trainer trains all of our people in this building to follow that recipe that I talked to you about and the same process over and over again.
About 40 percent of his time is spent training all of our translators who are contractors all around the world on, “This is how we want it done. These are the…this is how we want it sent back,” and there’s a process there.
With every project, there’s a sheet that goes with them saying, “This is the process that you need to follow.” Even if they’ve been working for us for 10 years or 12 years, they get that sheet of process that they need to follow.
He trains them on how to use our software. Everything is about process. If it isn’t, then how do you know what kind of burger you’re going to get every time you walk in? Never mind going to a different McDonald’s in a different city, you go to the same McDonald’s, “George was making burgers yesterday, and Peter’s making them today,” they’re not going to be the same. They do it differently.
Uh uh. You have to do it the same.
David: This trainer is helping the contractors do things the same way, and you said that they’re submitting it into a software. What does that software element look like?
Jean Pierre: We have some sophisticated software that we manage the projects, the texts, and the documents with. Especially with manuals, the manual for the Honda Civic of last year versus the Honda Civic of this year is usually 80 85 percent the same. They only change so much of the car.
That software automatically recognizes what was done last year, what we have in our database it’s a big translation memory database and it manages all that. Then the other part that you have to translate, which is new to this year’s owner manual, although it’s new, there’s still a whole bunch of terminology that needs to be consistent.
We need to always call it a handle, not a handle this time, a knob the next time, and a lever next time. Technical translation needs to be very, very consistent. We’re not doing poems, where we have to be flowery. We don’t do any of that stuff. We do technical manuals that have to be accurate and consistent.
Even in the stuff that we haven’t translated yet, that’s new, there’s a whole bunch of terminology that needs to be consistent from one year to the next not only that, but also for the Honda Civic and the other model, that model and this, and all the other Honda manuals, as well.
That consistency…we build these huge databases, translation memory databases, for each one of our customers. One customer wants to call it a handle, and the other customer wants to call it a lever. We need to know which one’s which, and we need to be consistent. Always call it a lever for this person, for that company, and always call it a handle for this one.
David: Was that software custom?
Jean Pierre: No, there are several kinds of off the shelf software, very specific to our industry. There are some add ons that we use, and we use them differently. A software is good. It’s a tool. How well are you using it?
You’re young. You’ll be able to use your iPhone in 10 times more ways than I do. For me, my iPhone, I get phone calls on it. Imagine that! Apparently, everybody else does it for everything else. My point is that, with my iPhone, I’m sure I’m one tenth or one fiftieth of the possibilities that I could use it for. It’s the same thing with software.
Whenever we buy software here and implement a new software, whatever the cost of that box of software is, $50,000 or $100,000 because are expensive software, my rule of thumb is if you’re spending $1 on software, you’re going to need to spend $3 on training your staff on how to use.
If you think you’re spending $50,000 in new software, you’re wrong. You’re going to be spending 50,000 plus another 150 of training, that’s $200,000, in implementing a new software or using a new system.
So you think those decisions out very well. You try to make sure that you’re bought the one that will suit you best.
David: Switching gears a bit then, you said 600 now different translators that you work with, that are contractors. My father’s a translator, so I understand the difficulty of that profession.
Obviously finding the good ones is important to your business and potentially difficult, because if you’re looking for a translator who works in a language that you don’t know or no one on your staff knows, it’s difficult to assess the quality of their work. How do you go about finding your translators, and then what does the quality assurance process look like?
Jean Pierre: My first language is French, as I said earlier, and even in assessing the French translators, with the volume that we do here, I can’t have my eye on everything. That’s why I needed an awful lot of people that are smarter than me around then.
We have process about that. We have processes about how to find translators but especially how to assess them and how to decide whether we want to continue to work with them and train them in our ways or not. We come to those decisions, especially the or not, rather quickly as a rule. We can quickly see by now that it’s not somebody that’s going to fit in our system.
But if we think they can fit in our system, we train them with our trainer here who will work with them. We’ve also got a whole series of short, two, three minute videos that will help them, the translators, wherever they are at home. If they forgot how to do this or if they want to review how to do that step, they just click and watch the three minute videos, and, “Oh yeah, that’s how you do it. That’s how Parenty Reitmeier wants it done.”
Finding them is difficult. We belong to the American Translators Association, the Canadian Translators Association. All of the associations in all the countries publish lists of translators that specialize in one field or another.
The specialization is one of the niches that we’ve worked on hard over the years. I’ve told you about the automotive industry.
Bobcats is a…everybody calls them “Bobcats” no matter what color they are, like a Kleenex or a Ski Doo. A Bobcat is a skid steer loader because you block this side, and it skids this way or it skids that way, You steer it by skidding it one way or the other, and it’s a loader, so it’s a skid steer loader.
`Before Bobcat came to us, their previous translator had translated skid steer loader into a slippery beef loader. Again, going back to one of the first things I said, if that translator knew what that machine does, he wouldn’t have translated that way, because you have to understand what the machine does and why you call it that to be able to recall it, to rename it.
Once we opened the manuals of those slippery beef loaders and looked at the descriptions of the hydraulics, it was a mess. It was a horrible mess.
There’s a lot of languages. There’s German and French and English and Japanese and Chinese and so on. But there’s also a lot of languages when you think of mechanical, legal, accounting, pharmaceutical, and on, and on, and on.
That’s why we are in that very narrow field of automotives, which is 80 percent of our work. We do quite a bit of financial as well, but we don’t do any pharmaceutical because, if we did, if we accepted a pharmaceutical document tomorrow, we’d come up with some form of slippery beef loaders for aspirins.
Going back to how do we select our translators, we select them in their speciality, and, within that specialty, most of them are mechanical engineers that have become translators or vice versa or they’ve been translating mechanical texts for a very, very, very long time.
In many, many, many cases, one of the things our clients praise us on over and over again is that, as we’re translating some text of mechanical, about a transmission or about a motor, we find something that’s not properly done in English and, prior to translating, we go back to them and say, “Uh, that paragraph.” They go, “Oh my god, you’re right. Thanks for catching that. We’re going to fix it, send it to you again, and then you can translate it into whatever language we need.”
That’s how good we are in the mechanical industry is that correct the English of what was written by Honda or Harley Davidson and so on.
In the owner manual, usually in the back, there’s a warranty page. That’s not a mechanical document. That’s a legal one. So that page is not sent to our mechanical specialist. It’s sent to our legal specialists who will translate that page alone.
Also, we do quite a bit of marketing material, so we have some people who are better at translating marketing. Because the technical translators are usually pretty dry and uninspiring if you want to do a nice glossy brochure that conveys emotion more than technical information. So, even within a client like Honda or Polaris, we will use different specialists within the Polaris work or within the Honda work and so on, and we select those translators accordingly.
David: But there’s generally no secondary oversight step in the sense that if you hire a Chinese translator, you’re trusting them to do it right.
Jean Pierre: There always is.
By now, we’ve done so many languages, over a hundred, that we do have some translators that have been working for us for quite a while that we trust and we know that they’re good and we know they’re meticulous.
If we need another Chinese translator, more because the volume has increased, we’ll try two or three out that we think may do well, and we get the senior translator to review it. We have a process.
When we select one, that’s what we do, but even in every project from then on, for the next 10 years for your company, first, it’ll be handled here and the text will be prepared here before sent for translation. It’ll be sent to translation. It’ll be brought back. It’ll be sent to a senior translator or a second translator to make sure that everything got caught and everything is good, to be revised.
It then goes through a process that we call TACT, technical accuracy check to own translation. That’s done by somebody who’s a specialist in mechanics or a specialist in financial, whatever it is, to make sure that he goes, “I can understand when you said ‘a nut with handles’ but really, in our language, we would call it a wing nut.”
By then, the translation is to a point where, the Germans who read that translation, they don’t think it’s a translation. They think it was originally written in German because it’s been translated by a specialist, revised, and then checked by somebody who really knows that subject matter who says, “We call it a wing nut.”
Then it comes back. It gets published, and then it gets proofread two to three times before we actually send them back to the client. So, before you get your German back, it has gone through at least seven sets of eyes, and that’s our process, one of those processes, that gets followed every time.
David: So it would then result in a very high quality.
Does that ever result in problems price wise? Are your competitors this thorough? Is the entire industry this thorough, or do you find that sometimes your clients are opting for cheaper options that aren’t quite as thorough?
Jean Pierre: For sure, yes, we have some price competition, and, yes, we do lose some clients to price, people who say, “We just want it done. We don’t care what it looks like.” Those are not the clients that we normally keep.
Let’s go back to the restaurants. There’s McDonald’s and there’s Hy’s Steak Loft, and both of those are very, very good businesses. There’s nothing wrong with owning a McDonald’s. You’re going to make a lot of money. There’s nothing wrong with owning Hy’s, but you’re serving a different segment.
We are not the McDonald’s of translation. We are the Hy’s or that quality of translation. So if you want a very good steak with great service and making sure that the atmosphere is great, you’re not going to go to McDonald’s. If you want a translation that isn’t going to embarrass you in the hands of your German client or your Chinese or your Japanese client, then you come to us.
We get and retain client who buy on value, not on price.
David: So they’re less price sensitive because the quality of the work is much more important.
Jean Pierre: Exactly. They’re less price sensitive. They’re more value sensitive. Because, in the end, you get some bad translation, and you have to reprint a whole bunch of manuals, and who knows how many sales you’ve missed in France or in Germany because you look like a good, how much does that cost you?
In the end, it’s actually cheaper, if you look at the whole picture, to get good quality and good value than just buying cheap translation. My mother always said to me when I was growing, and I remembered, she said, “We’re not rich enough to buy cheap stuff.” That rings in my head today still.
David: It’s interesting.
Jean Pierre: It’s about value.
David: Have there been any situations where the quality assurance process failed in a big way where you ended up returning something to your client, possibly getting something printed, and then realizing that you screwed up?
Jean Pierre: It’s happened a few times. We had an issue like that two years ago where we had to reprint some documents, some manuals, and we had to pay for the printing. Over the 23 years, that’s maybe happened two or three times. We are humans, and we’ll make human errors, but it doesn’t happen very often.
David: When it does happen, usually the client or one of their customers notices, and then you have to swallow the cost of reprinting. Is that kind of the way you…
Jean Pierre: It becomes a negotiation point in some cases. But if it truly is our fault that we messed up and it’s worthy of reprinting, yeah, we’ll have to reprint it.
David: How much liability insurance do you need to buy?
Jean Pierre: $5 million US of errors and omission…
David: Because I could imagine that an error…
Jean Pierre: …and, in 23 years, we have never claimed on it.
David: Of course. Well, fortunately.
Jean Pierre: Yeah, fortunately. We pay those premiums every year, and it’s wasted money, and I’m glad we’re wasting it.
David: [laughs] Money well wasted.
Circling back now, it’s been, like you said, 23 years since you’ve been in business. How many employees did you say you have in house? Do you know?
Jean Pierre: We have 40 employees here in house.
David: Then, around 600…
Jean Pierre: Six hundred but, as I said, some of them will do five…
David: Lots of part time contractors.
Jean Pierre: Oh, huge amount. But the 600, that amount of work that we do is equal to probably about 60 full time translators, so we have 40 here and the equivalent of 60 contractors around the global. So it’s the equivalent of 100 people.
David: Interesting. First of all, what has the growth trajectory looked over the past 23 years? Has the company constantly grown?
Jean Pierre: We have.
David: Have you grown in rank?
Jean Pierre: As a rule, we did till two years ago grow every year and every year. Two years ago, a year and a half ago, we lost a major customer, so that got us to come down for the first time ever. But we’re working hard at developing new customers and growing, and it’s working. We’re coming back, and we’re doing fine. So, overall, yes, we have grown pretty well every year until two years ago.
David: What do you see as the opportunities going forward. Is it kind of more of the same? Is there anything that you’re wanting or hoping to do differently going forward?
Jean Pierre: The translation business worldwide, it grows, has been for 20 years, growing by about 15 percent a year.
Jean Pierre: So we’ve been riding a nice wave of growth. Even if all you did for the last 20 years is retain all the customers you had, don’t get any new ones, even that, you’d get a growth of 12 to 15 percent every year for the last 15 years. Because they all need more translation because they’re translating more documents, more websites, 20 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of those, into more languages because they’re all developing.
Globalization is a wonderful thing. I wish I would have thought of it myself. Anytime that a company says, “OK, we’re going to go and sell in Eastern Europe,” they get there and they go, “Oh, yeah, we need translation.” So the more globalization happens, we’re just riding that wave, and we have been for the last 15, 20 years.
It’ll continue. Right now, Canada is developing the TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership, more and more trading. Globalization continues to grow. So all of the companies are not only translating into more languages but also more documents for all languages. That continues to fuel that growth.
It’s going to continue for as long as I have to worry about. Of course, I’m in my 60s, but I think it’ll continue for at least 10, probably 20 years. So there’s a lot of growth to happen, and that’s a good thing for me, for us.
However, I’m not the only one who’s figured this out, that there’s a lot of growth and a lot more growth to happen. Therefore, that’s why those large companies have decided let’s jump into this business, and they have in the last 10 years especially. More growth, however, more competition.
For us, as I’ve said before, we’re going to have to be start. We can’t go head to head with the Safeways. We have to be smart and develop niches, and that’s what we’re working very hard on.
David: It sounds like it’s a good space to be in general as long as you can ride one of those niches.
One last question before we wrap up here. Are there any people, specifically local people, but just people in general that you’ve known in your life that have influenced specifically your approach to business in a big way?
Jean Pierre: Yeah, he’s just up there. My dad was an entrepreneur.
David: Oh, wow.
Jean Pierre: He and I worked together. He was a farmer, but he was also very entrepreneurial. We worked together until I was 23 when he died in an accident. He taught me to dream. He taught me to act and act on those dreams.
I also inherited traits from my mother and my dad. From my mother, my mother was extremely driven and very impatient, and I gladly inherited those two traits. I always tell people that patience is not one of my weakness.
As an entrepreneur, I think you’ll find that most successful entrepreneurs are very impatient. It’s that impatience that makes me and makes me unsatisfied with the way things are. They’re not changing fast enough. Come on, let’s get on with it. You roll up your sleeves and you make it happen. Impatience is a great, great, great strength if you’re an entrepreneur.
Some of my close friends and wives and wife say, “Oh, JP, you’re so impatient,” and I always say, “Thank you.”
I got that from my mom, but the curiosity, the entrepreneurial spirit of wanting to try new things, I got that from my dad. So those two influenced me hugely.
Then, I also was in a program for about 18 years, I stopped a couple years ago, called the Strategic Coach Program out of Toronto. I flew to Toronto four times a year for one day with the strategic coach, with the business coach called Dan Sullivan.
That was of great, great, great value to me. I think that at least half of the success and the growth of this company is attributable to the fact that I was in the Strategic Coach Program. It was of great value to me.
David: That’s actually very interesting to me because there’s kind of a lot of “Business coaches” out there, and I wouldn’t expect all of them to be provide a great return.
Jean Pierre: That one worked for me. I know that he started his business a couple of years before me, and I watched him grow his business. The beauty of it is that what he preached, he did practice in his business, and his business grew massively and very well, and it suited me.
I am a person who…one of the results of my impatience was that I finished school much quicker than everybody else. I didn’t wait till grade 12 to leave. So I don’t have a high school education, and I’m a person that learns by doing and not out of reading somebody else’s opinions, although I do read, a little bit, because I’m not a very good reader.
I’m “Isdyslic” or dyslexic I think is the way it’s…Probably about it. I don’t know who decided to call it dyslexia for people like us who can’t even read that word. I thought that was kind of mean of them, so I call it “Isdyslic.”
I’m ADD, so my attention span is very, very short, so things have to be quick for me. I can’t stay on a subject for very long, so that’s why I don’t read books or long articles. Anyways, the strategic coach worked for me.
David: His name was Dan Sullivan?
Jean Pierre: Dan Sullivan at the Strategic Coach Program. You just Google “Strategic coach.” You’ll find him immediately.
It worked for a lot of people, more or less. Some of them just stayed one year and left because it wasn’t working for them, some stayed for three or four years, but a lot of us stayed for 10, 15, 20 years as clients of his. So it depends.
The people who did best and stayed the longest with Dan as a coach were people like me. The long timers at Dan Sullivan’s business, are not MBAs and highly educated university people.
David: These are the people who felt like they were getting a lot out of replacing some of that education that you didn’t think you had?
Jean Pierre: No, it’s not about replacing what I didn’t think I have, because I don’t have it and I don’t think I need it.
David: I’ve certainly heard that before.
Jean Pierre: I didn’t need to replace it, but his system worked for me because it’s about doing now, being aware of where you’re going, what needs to be done in the next three years, one year, next three months.
It’s breaking it down, it’s about goal setting, and there’s nothing more powerful than goal setting in the world.
David: Digging into that a little bit, because I’m curious, you said that a lot of the people that stuck with the coaching were people who didn’t necessarily have the formal education background in the business…
Jean Pierre: Some of them did, but this is just my personal observation, and I may be wrong. If you go into the database of clients, maybe what I’m saying is wrong, but I don’t think so.
Generally, the people who are like me, who are really true born entrepreneurs…there’s no other kind than born entrepreneurs. The people who are real true born entrepreneurs are the ones who are going to benefit the most from that program.
David: The people that were leaving weren’t leaving because they felt like they already knew it, they were leaving because they weren’t actually doing the stuff that they were…
Jean Pierre: Correct. They didn’t follow the process, they weren’t following his recipe, and therefore if you don’t follow the recipe, you’re not going to get the cake. You’re not going to make what you want.
It’s interesting, I’m on the advisory board. I’m on a few things. In the last few years, I’ve been asked to be on the Business Council of Manitoba, which is a nice honor. I am on there. I won the Entrepreneur of the Year award for western Canada two years ago. Our company won the Most Outstanding Business award for Manitoba, by the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce a couple of years ago.
Recently, in the last couple of years, I’ve been asked to sit on–and I do–on an advisory council for the dean of the University of Winnipeg Business School. They keep talking about wanting to develop an entrepreneurial class and subject. I keep telling them, “You don’t learn entrepreneurialism in a class.” If you’re not an entrepreneur by the time you’re two, a four year university is not going to do that.
There’s a whole bunch of tools that the business school can teach entrepreneurs that the entrepreneurs need to know. They need to understand bookkeeping and accounting and financial management. They need to understand human resource management. They need to understand all of those things that the business school teaches them.
Out of 100 people that come out of that school, you’re going to get 85 of them are going to become very, very good, well trained managers to go work for somebody, whether it’s Richardson or Cargill or Air Canada. They’re going to be great managers. But only 15 percent, at most, are going to be entrepreneurs, people who end up owning and developing and leading businesses.
Entrepreneur is from a French word called “Entreprendre.” And “Entreprendre” just means to take hold, to get things done. Managers are very important. Entrepreneurs need them. I always often joke because I say that everybody should get a really good business school or really good education, so they can go work for somebody who doesn’t have one. Entrepreneurs are born. They’re not made.
They can be tweaked. They have to be tweaked. They have to be improved. They have to learn the tools of business management so that they understand all that stuff, so they can then delegate it to somebody who’s better at them, at accounting or at selling or at marketing and all those things. As an entrepreneur, you are in charge of everything. If you do it right, you’re in control of nothing.
Over here, I’m in charge of everything in this company. In the end, whenever the pudding hits the fan, I’m the one standing in front of it. I still control too much, but if I were doing it perfectly, I would control nothing. That’s when you have a machine that you can sell to somebody.
David: Interesting. I’ve certainly heard that before, the idea that entrepreneurship is not something to be taught. Anyway, I think I’ve taken up probably more of your time than I intended to, but I really, really appreciate it. Thanks so much.
Jean Pierre: Good luck in your entrepreneurial endeavors.
David: Thank you very much.