How Do You Say Success?
Liz Elting (MBA ’92) who co-founded the world’s largest privately-owned translation solutions company, can tell you in five languagesby MARILYN HARRIS
Liz Elting, co-founder and co-CEO of TransPerfect, is an entrepreneur, business leader, linguaphile, philanthropist, proud feminist, and mother. After living, studying, and working in five countries—she speaks Portuguese, French, and Spanish, in addition to English, plus reads Latin—Elting started TransPerfect in 1992 from her NYU dorm room. Today, TransPerfect is the world’s largest provider of language services and technology solutions for global business, with more than $600 million in revenue, 4,000 employees, 11,000 clients, and offices in more than 90 cities worldwide. Elting earned an MBA in finance and international business from NYU Stern and a BA from Trinity College, where she is a trustee. In 2017, she founded the Elting Family Research Fund to support initiatives for the International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation. She is the Founding Ambassador for the NYC American Heart Association’s Circle of Red.
1/ Did you ever dream TransPerfect would become so large?
I dreamed of being the world’s premier language solutions company, but the scale we’ve achieved is considerably bigger than we ever anticipated. A lot of that has to do with the overall explosion of the industry. That said, I wanted to orient the company for growth from the beginning.
2/ How have you managed to stay on top of the advances in technology?
We got ahead early in tech and made it our mission to stay there. In the mid-1990s, we focused on investing a great deal in technology; staying on the cutting edge has always been a priority. In 1999, after the internet started really taking off, we started building a web business. The goal was to get there first and attract the strongest tech talent.
3/ How would you describe TransPerfect’s growth strategy?
Our growth has been over 90 percent organic, but I’d be lying if I said we hadn’t also grown via acquisition, but our 20 small acquisitions account for less than 10 percent of revenue. Most business is repeat business and referrals. Our strategy has been to use repeat business to reinvest in the company: open new locations, which means new customers, and new customers mean new referrals. That simple formula is a self-fueling, perpetual-motion machine.
4/ What are your biggest challenges in running such a large, spread-out organization?
Maintaining quality and service while also maintaining the culture. My goal has been to be the employer of choice in our industry, which isn’t easy to sustain on this scale. It takes steady leadership dedicated to the well-being of the company, your team members, and clients.
5/ How did your Stern MBA classes help you as you launched your company?
It was incredibly helpful to be able to learn about the basic tools we use on a day-to-day basis running a business; I needed a ground-level understanding of them. Stern gave me a broad-based education that was immediately practical, and, frankly, credibility. Importantly, the contacts I made at Stern also helped fuel the company’s early growth; several became clients.
6/ You have been very involved with Stern, speaking at many events and to many classes. What does it mean to you to stay connected and serve as a role model?
I’m so excited to give back to Stern when Stern gave so much to me. I especially value having the opportunity to model success for ambitious young women pursuing careers in business. The work of women business leaders is helping inspire a new generation of women entrepreneurs. More women need the opportunities and support necessary to take those chances. I’ve always found so much inspiration in being an advocate, mentor, and support system for women who want to make their own way in the world instead of waiting for someone else to give them permission.
7/ What sparked your interest in language and travel?
I had an international upbringing, and language has been a passion of mine since I was very young. After college, I had a paid internship in Caracas in the finance department at Venezuela’s largest cement company. Nobody spoke English. It really hammered home the need for clear communication in a business setting. That’s been a huge influence on making TPT what it is.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Elting has always been interested in languages —as a child living in Portugal she studied Portuguese and French; French, Spanish and Latin at high school in Toronto; and Spanish in college.
- Her fondest memories of Stern are the Thursday Beer Blasts.
- TransPerfect has been named one of the fastest-growing women-owned/led businesses in North America by Entrepreneur and the Women Presidents’ Organization.