Interview with Renato Beninatto: “What we’re going to translate in five years has not been invented yet”

Zana Čizmin 6 years ago 8 min read

We met up with Renato Beninatto, the renowned language industry veteran and thought leader and CEO of Nimdzi Insights, earlier this month at LocWorld35 – Silicon Valley conference in Santa Clara. His latest book The General Theory of the Translation Company written with Tucker Johnson has just hit the stores and this was a perfect occasion for our Chief Business Development Officer Zana Čizmin to discuss both the book and the present and the future of the translation industry with Renato.

Interview with Renato Beninatto: “What we’re going to translate in five years has not been invented yet”
Tucker Johnson, Zana Čizmin and Renato Beninatto

First, let me thank you for being with us today and congratulate on your recent book The General Theory of the Translation Company! Can you tell us what was your primary motivation to write this book?

Well, everybody has a book inside them and I’ve had this book inside me for many, many years. I’ve been doing workshops, teaching and doing things for the last, at least, 15 years, but it has always been based on Power Point presentations.

Last year, The Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey invited me to prepare a course on the business of translation. It was a 15-hour course, so I prepared a bunch of slides and a lot of this knowledge is just in my head and I delivered those 70-80 slides, but I was smart this time and I recorded myself and that was the basis for the book. The genesis was this request from the university for a course for graduate students who were going into business.

Perfect. What do you think are the main highlights that might interest the audience and make them want to read the book?

This book is designed for three main audiences.

The most obvious audience are the owners of translation companies. The book is called The General Theory of the Translation Company, so it’s a good way for business owners, partners, executives in translation companies to understand the things they already do from a theoretical perspective and how they can improve their performance in that area.

The second audience are translators. LSPs are the biggest clients of translators and a smart translator would want to know how an LSP works and what are the elements that affect the performance of a good LSP.

And the third audience would be buyers, he buyers of translation services that want to understand where and how their suppliers create value for them. This book describes the framework of 3 core functions that every translation company has – project management, vendor management and sales, and how they affect the performance of the company.

When it comes to the first audience, because we’re also an LSP, we would like to hear more about your main advice for a growing LSP in this ever-changing environment?

The most important thing for an LSP that wants to create a value and growth is to understand the importance of margins. And the importance of understanding the core structure and how to manage that. In our industry today – and this is an advice that I give to every business owner – is that every day when you wake up, you have to think about 3 things: What can I do to grow my company? What can I do to buy another company? What can I do to sell my company?

And when you think about these three things, we’re talking about creating value and exploiting value and the book provides a structure to that thought. You have tools to analyze your own business and even to analyze other businesses. And it’s not a very long book, it’s a quick read.

Interview with Renato Beninatto: “What we’re going to translate in five years has not been invented yet”

The General Theory of the Translation Company by Renato Beninatto and‎ Tucker Johnson

Do you think that the clients generally understand what we do or do you think that nobody outside of our industry circles knows our business?

To be frank, I think that we shouldn’t care what the clients know or don’t know. A good LSP will provide such a good service that the client doesn’t have questions or needs to wonder about any of that. But it’s always good to have a third party source or something written in a published book that you can give to your clients, to say “Hey, look, this is how it works! Don’t trust me, look at this!” There’s a saying that what you say about yourself is an opinion and what somebody else says about you is a fact. So when you’re having a dispute whether or not your client needs to get more information about your business, you can always share the book with them.

Good advice! When it comes to that, what we actually feel as a company is that client’s aren’t giving us enough credit for what we do. They’re not taking us seriously.

Well, that’s not their job. I think that one of the problems that we have in the translation industry is that we think too much about how important we are and how much credit and respect we deserve. The key is to think of our activity the same way that you think about a taxi driver. The taxi driver is the most important person in the world for his wife and his mechanic, but for you and for others, he’s just a person that takes you from one place to another. We do the same thing with our clients – we take their product from one language to another and we shouldn’t care too much about them understanding what we do. What we need to make sure is that we deliver the product that creates value for them and that they’re satisfied with that service. How it’s done, whether we are respected or not, that’s not the point. The client pays, we deliver, everybody’s happy.

So, it actually has something to do with the opinion that LSPs are doing something wrong. We’re not doing anything wrong?

No, we tend to have an inferiority complex in our business, which is absolutely wrong. We are experts in what we do. When we go to a doctor and the doctor asks you questions and gives you a diagnosis, you respect that diagnosis. Why? Because he’s an expert.

If you have a leakage in your house and you call a plumber, and even though he doesn’t have three university degrees, you talk to him, he tells you that you need to change this and you need to do that, you respect him. Because he’s an expert.

When it comes to translation, a client tells us I want to pay less, I want it to be done this way and we want it to be done that way, and we lower our ears and we always say yes, sir, yes, sir. And the reality is that WE are the experts and we should be telling THEM how it’s going to be, how much it’s going to cost and what’s the way to go. Of course, I’m talking about an extreme situation here, there is a balance that needs to be achieved, but we in the language industry need to learn to position ourselves as the experts in what we do.

We in the language industry need to learn to position ourselves as the experts in what we do.

That would be your definition of today’s respectable LSP?

Absolutely! The ones that know what they do.

Which services and solutions do you think would be around in five years? A lot will change, of course, even in a year.

Absolutely. We need to keep in mind that ten years ago Google Translate didn’t exist. What we’re going to translate in five years has probably not been invented yet. The jobs that people are going to have in the future are jobs that don’t exist today. We overestimate the rate of change, but we underestimate the impact of change and this happens in every industry. Change is not going to happen as fast, so in five years we’ll be probably doing 80% the same job as we’re doing today, but we underestimate the impact of change. We will probably have completely new types of content, completely new types of products that will need to be translated and localized and they will have significant impact in our day to day lives. We don’t know that because they’re not there yet. I’m very positive of the outcome of the industry, I don’t believe there’s any danger for us in the next several years – at least.

Okay, that perfectly sums up the answer about the future of the industry. Do you have anything else to say to our readers?

Yeah, buy our book!

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