Aug 28

LANGUAGE INDUSTRY LEADER PROFILE: Rafet Saltık

In 1980, when a young Rafet Saltik started studying for a degree that would qualify him to teach English as a foreign language at Marmara University, the idea that, nearly 40 years later, he would end up running of one of his country’s leading translation companies and be President of a national association, never entered his thinking.

Rafet’s path in the translation business came about by accident. During the years he was studying his Masters in European Social Relations he started teaching in 1984 before joining the faculty of Istanbul University. At first the occasional translation jobs came his way.

“The income from translation was only providing me pocket money at first,” he recalls. “Gradually I found that I was devoting half my time to translating. What changed everything was an approach from a US business who offered to put regular monthly work my way. I still have no idea how they found me, but it certainly changed the direction of my life.”

As the regular work built up, he realised that there was a serious business offering translation services. He continued at the university handling the growing translation work on the side, but was forced to employ additional linguists to handle the growing volume of work.

After eight years he had to quit his university job having set up his first company, Set-Systems Translation Services, and went fulltime. That company is still operational but his main company, through which the bulk of his business is carried out, is Referans Translation Services.

Of course, Referans is not the only language service company operating in a country the size of Turkey. According to Rafet Saltik there are over 1,000 entities offering such services. Some of them will be nothing more than letterbox operations or the trading names used by individual freelance translators.

A freelance organisation existed in Turkey for many years, but there was little that purely represented interests of the company sector.

Rafet recalls that there was a small company trade association. “However, for one reason or another, it only represented a few companies. In the end, it became inactive and died,” he said.

It was that inactivity which prompted a group of 16 company owners to come together in 2007 to form Çeviri İşletmeleri Derneği (CID). Eight years later, under the leadership of Rafet Saltik membership had grown to 68.

In 2017 CID applied for and was granted membership of the EUATC. Today it boasts 64 members, making it one of the largest translation company associations in Europe.

Rafet was determined that the new association would always seek to be relevant to its members and key partners such as government, universities and purchasers of language services.

“Our members recognise that, while we are rivals in the marketplace we also have common areas of interests. In particular, we are all committed to excellence of service and quality, as well as to the future of the profession.”

With the future of the profession in mind, many of CID’s activities centre around working with academia.

“It is vital that we encourage translation students to enter the language industry and we work closely with the academics preparing them for the world of work,” says Rafet.

CID also sees that it has a vital role to spread the word about the importance of the translation and localization industries among those most likely to buy its services.

The Turkish association is part of a wider confederation whose members are other industry associations. 

“This is an important national umbrella organisation and CID members are active within it,” says Rafet. “We often speak at other industry conferences promoting the use of professionally-produced translations and languages services.”

Of course, CID runs its own national conference, which attracts members and non-members from all over the country. The most recent one was held in June. 

“Our national event is an important forum to share best practice, exchange information about the market and, importantly, network. It also acts a recruiting sergeant to attract new members who see how active we are and the benefits that can come from working with other players in the sector.

“Naturally, “ Rafet points out with a smile in his voice, “even with connections to purchasers through the Confederation, customers, like anywhere else in the world, often want the highest quality of service at the lowest possible price and always want the work delivered tomorrow!”

CID operates a strict criteria for membership and all members must agree to abide by a Membership Oath

“The oath sets a high bar for CID members to meet and deliberately so,” says Rafet, “we need to differentiate our members from the crowd.”

The elephant in the room – the political situation in Turkey – cannot be avoided. Rafet concedes that it can be difficult to run a business in such an uncertain climate, but is quick to point out that such a situation is not confined to Turkey. 

“In Britain for example, LSPs are anxious about the uncertainty a no-deal Brexit will have on their operations. However, as an outsider, I would hesitate to comment or pronounce on another country’s political landscape and I think that rule should be adopted by others before criticising too quickly what they perceive to be happening in my country.”

In geo-political terms Turkey is at the crossroads of a deeply troubled region and, according to Rafet, this has had a major impact on the language industry.

“We are a population of 81 million citizens, but we play host to more than 6 million refugees. This has benefitted CID members who are now able to tap into more Arabic and Kurdish speakers, who are offering their services at competitive prices.

“We are privileged to be working in an industry that provides a soft bridge between different cultures and political approaches. CID members, who work with LSPs and customers from all over the world are always pleased to support other LSPs wherever they operate and offer the hand of friendship. Ultimately, it is those kinds of long-lasting relationships that go a long way towards breaking down cultural and political divides,” concluded Rafet Saltik.