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14 CEOs on the Economy

14 CEOs on How to Resume Business in the COVID-19 Economy

CEOs’ feedback on how to get back to business


During a time of uncertainty, hearing from fellow leaders helps. Throughout the pandemic, we have been sharing anonymous feedback from multiple constituents, including 115 CEOs from CSA Research global rankings.

CSA Research asked members of our two LSP Leadership Councils to share what they’re thinking about their next steps in business. We present the thoughts of 14 CEOs – in their own words – on what it means to them to get back to business.

Their advice ranges from a focus on business basics to taking advantage of near-term opportunities to self-assessment to energized reinvention all the way to very contemplative essays about leadership. Many companies are using this time to reimagine their businesses and the language sector. And all of them want to make sure that when they do go back to work, employees are safe and they take care of all their business constituencies – staff, clients, investors. To learn more about their ideas, read on.

Note: We listed the CEO statements by company, in the order of ranking from our report, “Who's Who in Language Services and Technology: 2019 Rankings.

John Fennelly, CEO of Lionbridge (US$705 million)

Lionbridge is a crowd company, so it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that we’ve performed very well while operating in a virtual state. Going through a crisis is like creating a real-time stress test for your leadership team. You learn a lot about your team and your company.

We had a feeling that leaving our offices would be much easier than returning! And we were right. We were ahead of the curve getting our team to work from home and we’re using this opportunity to rethink what we’re calling the “future of work” while accelerating the timetable for a number of planned initiatives. We won’t look the same when we come back to our physical offices.

Plan for the worst case while acting boldly. That has been our guiding principle since the pandemic hit. My takeaway from the financial crisis was that the bold were ultimately rewarded, and those who waited for the storm to pass missed significant opportunities. We have acted very quickly where we’ve seen opportunity, while acting with equal speed where we’ve seen problems arise.


 

Scott Klein, CEO of LanguageLine Solutions (US$530 million)

 

They say, “the same heat that melts butter hardens steel.” We feel like we’ve been tested and emerged stronger than ever. The stakes of our work have never been higher than the past two months. We’ve had to rise to the occasion while working at a distance from one another. This could have brought us to our knees. In our case, we are communicating better than we ever have, our bonds are stronger, and our value to our partners has never been clearer.

We’re returning to our offices with a new strength and resolve about the importance of what we do. Should there be a second wave of COVID-19 as some have predicted, we’re secure in knowing we’ve developed the muscles necessary to transition seamlessly. For now, we look forward to being in the same room once again and capitalizing on this momentum.

 


 

 

Adolfo Hernandez, CEO of SDL (US $405 million)

During this period of COVID-19 we have been totally focused on protecting our employees, supporting our customers’ businesses and being very present, clear and dependable for all stakeholders. We reached a “new normal” operating model across SDL, and in every one of the 39 countries we operate in. In an environment like this, nobody can predict three weeks out, let alone three months or three years. However, we believe that the changes introduced by COVID-19 will be here for a while – if not the virus or economic shock – then some of the changes it has forced onto us that will undoubtedly remain with us for a long time. The world will be more digital, we will see acceleration in areas of e-communications, e-learning, e-fitness, e-socializing and e-health, as examples. This will create new market opportunities and at SDL we will respond to these changes and impacts to deliver to our customers, employees and investors.


 

Richard Glasson, CEO of Hogarth Worldwide (US $278 million)

As the world continues to navigate the far-reaching consequences of COVID-19, the priority is clearly to keep everyone safe, but we also need to continue to work and keep our businesses moving forward. From a creative content production perspective, we have seen an absolute focus on the today, with clients exploring new media channels, breathing life into existing assets and harnessing new technology. Playing an important role in this has been our language department, who have enabled clients to re-use and re-purpose existing assets across new markets making them locally and culturally relevant. Due to the already global nature of the team and the technological capabilities in place, remote working is already part of the day-to-day and has enabled us to minimise the disruption caused by the huge impact that COVID-19 has had on working practices around the world.

But we have also certainly started to see a shift towards planning for the future. “Crisis Production” is “Sustainable Production” and we believe we will see profound and lasting behavioural changes in the months and years to come. It will become increasingly important to ensure resilience and robustness is incorporated into global supply chains and approaches to content production and localisation. The use of new technology, AI and innovative ways of working will also certainly play a part with the ability to produce AI driven transcreation for live action and the continuing advances in translation automation just two of many. 

Ultimately, we will need to learn from this crisis and make the way we work better for all of our futures. Crisis production will lead to sustainable production driven by innovation, cloud technology and remote production capabilities and we all need to be ready.


 

Smith Yewell, CEO of Welocalize (US $255 million)

 

The operative word for us in resuming work in our offices is: voluntary.  We want our people to feel confident in being safe, and we will not expect anyone to return to an office until they are comfortable in so doing. In a recent survey of our staff, we asked “when restrictions are lifted would you feel comfortable traveling and/or going into an office?”  More than half replied that they would be somewhat or very uncomfortable.  We are reimagining where and how we complete our work, and many of our team members will see a brand new balance in how much they work from an office/home.


 

Larry Gould, Chairman of thebigword (US $108 million) 

Localisation has seen a short-term drop in demand from industries such as hospitality and automotive. This is to be expected as those sectors have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic and we are ready to support them as we start to move out of the "lockdown" phase and into a "new normal" environment with new consumer behaviours. 

Interestingly though, other sectors have seen increased localisation demand, in particular those companies dealing directly with consumer products. Digital localisation has been vital as companies move increasingly to e-commerce models to make up for the shortfall in sales through stores. We are seeing impressive growth in demand for remote language services, for example remote interpreting, which has replaced Face to Face Interpreting as the go-to choice in hospitals, schools and courtrooms, and is being used more and more by private sector organisations who need to minimise the number of people working on site physically to comply with new public health rules.

In the short and medium term, we expect more focus on the localisation of online content as e-commerce continues to be an ever-more-important part of the wider retail landscape. We will also see more focus on continuous localization workflows and machine learning which is becoming more sophisticated and can deliver better returns. In addition, as demand for localisation increases, processes will inevitably need to be streamlined even further to help non-specialists access services more easily, and marketing/sales teams will want more centralised control over localised services as they become a bigger part of their toolkit.


 

Vincent Nguyen, CEO of Ubiqus (US $90 million)

The switch went off suddenly mid-March, we need to turn it on as soon as possible.

This crisis revealed a lot of facts, real and virtual. Some companies were ready to work remotely right away.

Did it work? yes, because we have the whole infrastructure to do so in a normal situation. Is this the way we really need to work ? Not really. I read a post of someone picturing his 12-year old daughter working for school in front of her iMac with the following comment: "My daughter can work remotely, why won't companies let their staff do so?" My answer is: "will you keep your daughter home forever because she can work from home?".

A company is not just individuals working each on their side, answering emails or chats on instant messengers. Doing so leads to misunderstandings, mistakes, lack of responsiveness or understanding of messages.
In a live situation, we walk a few steps and talk to each other, in a virtual environment we do not always dare to call or create a meeting.

A company is a vision and a team movement, a social place and the last thing we need is to de-humanize this environment.

Turn the switch on, the life of before was really fine.


 

Juan Julián León, CEO of SeproTec Multilingual Solutions (US $61 million)

Caution, Adaptability and Innovation: As a Spanish citizen formed by my country's own history with pandemics, I have been wired to move with great caution as we experience this current trial. As an advocate for safety and as the head of an international enterprise, I view it as our duty to keep our employees protected while also providing innovative and quality services. Our priority has always been – and will continue to be – to cover our clients’ needs.

Learning from our global partners and our own experience, I can say that we will be taking a step-by-step approach in the upcoming months. Thanks to our ability to shift to working remotely, we have been fully operational and have had minimal challenges to our workflows. 

Moreover, our team has shown a level of efficiency that caught our attention, and we had the opportunity to implement even more of our technologies to improve our existing processes.

This global pandemic has also given us the opportunity to highlight our team's strengths and our capabilities as a leading multilingual solutions provider.

Therefore, not only will we maintain remote operations until we feel assured that there are no health risks to our employees, but we are also planning to maintain certain areas remotely as this period helped us to become an even better company for our employees and for our clients.


 

Konstantin Josseliani, CEO of Janus Worldwide (US $25 million)

 

The translation industry was better prepared for this crisis than many other industries since remote working has been a long-standing practice for most LSPs.  Nevertheless, we had to rework our business continuity plan and pay special attention to issues like cash flow and cost optimization. And because work for some of our teams around the world decreased, remained the same for others, and even grew for some, we had to monitor workloads closely and re-distribute resources and projects as demand changed.

 

We also took the time to develop new technology to streamline our production process. We launched a new release of our GTP platform for collaboration with clients and continued major AI-based development projects in our ERP system with Autopoilot for autonomous project management, a vendor suggestion process, intelligent LQAs, and remote simultaneous interpreting. In the long run, LSPs with client portfolios diversified across industries, regions, and client types are much better positioned to master this pandemic – and any future crisis or downturn.


 

Michael Zhu, CEO of Lan-Bridge (US $25 million)

 

Before the virus outbreak, our target growth rate was to be around 20% in 2020. However, the pandemic has changed our business plans. The management team had become more busy than usual to cope with the changing situations. In the last 5 months, our revenue had dropped by 12% compared to that of 2019, but we managed to achieve a healthy balance between earning and spending. It is good that most of our Chinese offices are in full operation again. I hope that there will be no “second wave”. The virus aside, MT technology is drastically reshaping the translation and language industries, which is much more severe and fundamental than what the virus had caused. In addition, the anti-globalization trend has also decreased the needs for language services. All the LSPs will have to face the challenges of surviving in the industry in the years to come. Spend less and earn more, good luck.


 

Kåre Lindahl, CEO of Venga (US $20 million)

Albert Einstein stated, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” These words are certainly true today as we start to venture back to the NEW normal. Venga is fortunate to have a culture of working remotely combined with a robust and secure online infrastructure. When Covid-19 hit, we could start looking at the future very quickly.

Here is what we focused on:

Community: staff, clients, partners, family, friends, and each of us individually, we all need to be safe and come together online to stay sane.

Agility: with economic and health uncertainties still impacting us, it’s important to be able to change quickly. Budgets and plans become BI forecasting instruments to guide your company, but not to hold you back.

Opportunity: for change and growth. As the world moved online in days, we all now have more time. This is an important ingredient needed for change in areas like technology, NMT/AI/ML, and M&A.

Future: we know that Covid-19 too will pass, and we must be ready on the other side. Use the time today to invest in you and yours. Start the journey to where you always wanted to be and don’t focus on the difficulties.

In short, the initial negative impact has been outweighed by the many positive opportunities.


 

Katja Schabert, CEO of Transline (US $19.3 million) 

We are not yet done changing. The need to work from home changed not only the way of communication within our company but also with our customers. Up to a few weeks ago local and global business operations relied heavily on personal meetings, trade fairs, and events. But where traveling seemed necessary before, in many situations online meetings are now sufficient in many situations. Completely changing to digital workflows especially when it comes to marketing, sales, and customer care, remains difficult nonetheless. The numerous virtual events currently just cannot compensate for the missing human component of traditional marketing and sales channels. Change is still necessary to adapt to a new virtual business world and it will be interesting to see if the fast pace of this forced digital transformation will produce sustainable concepts for digital communication.


 

Ludmila Golovine, CEO of MasterWord Services (US $15 million)

The Language Services industry has proven to be remarkably resilient and adaptable to economy fluctuations over the years; COVID-19 was no exception. Initially, the team kept busy adjusting to the demands and requirements of remote work and continuing to support customers and partners. Our corporate mission of connecting people across language and culture was rapidly kicked into high gear: within one week we launched a new service line leveraging virtual communication platforms to provide language access under new social distancing rules. 

As situational fatigue began to set in over the days and weeks, we observed the challenges of remote work increasingly becoming an issue to be reckoned with. From the complexities of virtual meetings to the pressures of external elements at home and the challenges linked to imposed isolation, it has been crucial for us to introduce new ways to inspire, guide, and support our team. And while revenue and financial indicators are slowly turning positive, it appears as if the reality of COVID may last for months to come and “normal” operations may never be the same. We need to be prepared for the long haul, and this is where true teamwork really matters.


 

Michel Lopez, CEO of e2f (US $11 million) 

We all wish we know when this will end, whether the economy is going to come roaring back, when a vaccine will be available, whether there will be a second, massive wave of infections, whether new treatments will mitigate the effects of the disease.

Unfortunately, nobody has a clue, experts have whole ranges of answers to these questions, no prediction seems better than another, so it’s impossible to forecast with a high degree of certainty, and as leaders, to plan accordingly.

We can’t forecast, we can’t plan, so let’s focus on the present. Focus on delivering the best possible services to our clients, the best possible customer experience. Let’s focus on our employees, their mental health, the sharpening of their skills, focus on developing new products and new services, focus on what we can control.

This tunnel has an end, we don’t quite know when we will reach it or what will be on the other side, so let’s make sure that we use our headlights, walk together, not leave anybody behind, and reach the end in the best possible shape.