Jul 02

LOOKING BACK AND TO THE FUTURE interview with EUATC president

A lot has happened in the language industry over the last six years, since Rudy Tirry took on the mantle of President of the European Union of Associations of Translation Companies (EUATC). 

Rudy, a Lionbridge veteran and President of the Belgian Quality Translation Association (BQTA), is preparing to hand over to a successor at the EUATC’s next General Meeting taking place in Budapest at the end of October. When T-UPDATE caught up with him he was in a reflective mood. 

The sector has and is changing fast he says. At the top end, the effects of globalization has seen an acceleration of mergers and acquisitions to produce mega-sized language providers whose focus is on securing industrial-sized contracts worth millions of Euro.  

He has had a ringside seat affording him the best view in the house to observe that significant market shift. His own company, Lionbridge, acquired CLS Communications for $77m in 2014 and, then just two years later, was itself bought by HIG Capital for a cool $360m.

But he acknowledges that this market change is most visible at the very top end of the sector. “The majority of LSPs are still focusing on local and regional markets or work in collaboration with partner companies based in different countries.”

This is a trend he has seen from successive EUATC events, where the Europe-wide umbrella group representing 22 national associations, brings together company owners and key-decision makers from across the continent and the rest of the world.

“I have seen those individual links being made at our conferences.  We are, after all, a people business and the scale of EUATC events has ensured that lasting connections, which might start over a beer during a networking break, develop into lasting business relationships.”

Mirko Silvestrini, Rudy Tirry’s predecessor, sought to establish the EUATC as the go-to organisation for EU institutions and initiatives established by it. 

“I think Mirko certainly succeeded. Through his endeavours, the association has become the EU’s discussion partner for anything it has in mind that could have an impact on the translation and language industry.

“It is a position we needed to keep intact and further develop. That has certainly taken place under my watch with Mirko continuing on the board as a Vice President with that objective as a specific area of responsibility.”

With that role in European establishment circles established, Tirry’s key objective for his term was to shift EUATC attention to the industry itself, as well going back to the EUATC’s original raison d’etre, to represent the national associations.

“The EUATC does not exist on its own behalf. It exists on behalf of its members.  Because our focus was elsewhere support for the national associations had been somewhat relegated to the background.”

One of his first actions to ensure more attention was paid to the industry was to start gathering accessible information about the sector by helping to establish the annual European Language Industry Survey.

“The Survey not only provides network members of the EUATC with vital data on which to base strategic decisions about their own businesses, it further facilitates the dialogue between the sector and EU institutions.”

The annual Survey, which set out as an EUATC initiative, now has buy-in from other significant players in the sector such as GALAEliaFIT Europe and the European Commission itself.

“It is for others to judge, but I am proud that this EUATC initiative now has developed to such an extent that we had nearly 1,170 responses to our survey this year. 

“I am confident that this annual exercise will continue going forward.” However, he concedes that, compared to organisations such as Common Sense Advisory, the European Language Industry survey can only provide top line trends.  Therefore having established the importance of generating industry data sets, he and the EUATC board were determined to find ways to encourage less well-funded national associations to conduct their own more in-depth market surveys.

He points out that the EUATC is small by comparison to some umbrella groups, but, through careful financial management over many years, it had built up a reserve.

“As ever, some of the less well established national associations, wanted to use that reserve to reduce their annual subscriptions. The board felt that there was a more constructive way forward though.

“We agreed to set aside a proportion of the reserve to be used as grants to support national association initiatives.  So rather than subsidise subscriptions we wanted to use our reserve fund to reward association activity.” 

Unsurprisingly early grant applications sought financial backing for national industry surveys that would go further than the EUATC’s own broader annual study. Those national EUATC member associations have used the resulting data to develop more in-depth insights into their own local market, as well as leveraging the resulting publicity around the survey results to attract more members to their ranks.

Other EUATC grant applications have moved away from data gathering to support for events – particular ones where the focus has been on regional collaboration.

“We saw this first in the Balkans, where our member the Serbian Association of Translations Companies (SATC) was able to mount a very successful conference that attracted representatives from many nearby countries where there are, as yet, no national associations representing Language Service Companies.  I am confident that in the long term this will encourage the formation of new associations and the EUATC will be on stand-by to help those countries.

“The EUATC fund was also able to back an event in the Baltic States led by our member, the Estonian Association of Translation Companies (AETC).”

The consolidation of the language industry conference calendar coincides with the backing of the EUATC and looks set to continue as other EUATC members start looking at collaborative opportunities.

“This year the EUATC fund has made a significant grant to four of our members, who are collaborating to develop an annual regional event called Meet Central Europe.”

The last six years has also seen huge advances in technology, particularly machine translation and advances in artificial intelligence (AI). 

“Whether the next language industry revolution is built around block chain technology or the advances in AI, I am confident that the EUATC’s annual T-UPDATE event will carry on providing a platform for the innovators and industry disruptors, as well as continuing to be a forum to share best practice.

“Whoever emerges as my successor as President of the EUATC, that person will, of course, wish to set their own priorities, but one thing is for sure. Whoever picks up the baton, will be taking over during a period of ultra-fast development for a global industry which is set to be worth