Women in Business Q&A: Liz Elting, Co-Founder of TransPerfect

The Huffington Post
By Laura Dunn  
 
Short version: Liz Elting is the co-founder and co-CEO of TransPerfect and Translations.com. TransPerfect's Translations.com is a leading provider of software, website, and enterprise-wide localization services, as well as translation-related technology products. Elting has received numerous awards for her outstanding entrepreneurship, including Working Woman's Entrepreneurial Excellence Award for Customer Service, the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the Inc. 500 Award and the Deloitte & Touche Fast Tech Award, six times. TransPerfect has appeared five times on the Inc. 5000 list as one of America's fastest growing companies, and the Women Presidents' Organization featured TransPerfect in its list of Top 50 Fastest Growing Women-Led Companies six times. The company was named Delta Airlines' Women Owned Business of the Year in 2014.
 
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My father was a successful businessman who also tried his hand at entrepreneurship, so I was fortunate to be exposed to the entrepreneurial spirit at a young age. My parents also instilled in me a strong work ethic, insisting that I have a job from the moment it was first feasible. Given that early start to the working world, I had many odd jobs -- everything from babysitting to working at a dry cleaner to being an usher for the Toronto Blue Jays. As a result of this foundation, I quickly learned the importance of putting the time in and taking pride in your work, which I believe are the cornerstones of a successful business venture.
 
I was also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to live and study in several different countries in my younger, more formative years, including Portugal, Spain, Canada and Venezuela. Being exposed to foreign languages and cultures from a young age sparked my interest in international business, which grew into a desire to work in an industry focused on globalization and connecting people around the world.
 
How has your previous employment experience aided your position as a leader today?
My first job out of college, before I began my degree at the New York University Stern School of Business, was at Euramerica, working in the sales and production departments. The translation industry was (and still is) very fragmented, so to be successful you have to find ways to stand out. Working at Euramerica, I saw there were holes in the company's capabilities -- a lack of growth in technology, not meeting rush requests -- which I knew I could fill by creating my own company. I was confident that this would allow me to stand out in the industry.
 
I started TransPerfect on the basis of 10 core values that still form the heart of our business to this day: integrity, quality, service, empowerment, urgency, respect, teamwork, diversity, financial responsibility and results. Each one of our more than 3,000 employees hears about these principles during her first days at TransPerfect and then consistently throughout her time with us. Dedicating ourselves to these values has allowed us to provide the best quality and client service in the industry, and has enabled us to stand out the way I initially envisioned.
 
What have the highlights and challenges been as a CEO?
Every single day, I am motivated by my team. It is remarkable to watch people start out as entry-level employees and then develop into senior-level managers. Seeing our people flourish on a daily basis, while the company grows at the same time, is special. This goes beyond the business; having the opportunity to make an impact on people's lives, personally and professionally, and giving them the chance to build their own business within TransPerfect (i.e. "intrapreneurship") is hugely rewarding and reminds me why we do what we do each day.
 
However, as every business owner knows, success does not come without challenges. Right now, our biggest challenge is maintaining momentum while maintaining our culture. We continue to exhibit strong growth, and it's an exciting time for the company, but with that development comes a challenge to maintain the small-business feel that we have cultivated over the years. We built our company by delivering exceptional client service. Providing a personal touch and creating that wow factor for our clients continues to be a differentiator for us in this industry, and we can't lose sight of that as we scale.
 
This applies internally, as well. We now have more than 3,000 employees with offices on six continents in more than 80 cities. I have made it a point to visit as many of our global offices as I can to meet the most team members, but it's now impossible for me to meet every single person like I did in our early years. Maintaining the flat structure we've built -- giving our employees open-door access and the opportunity to approach upper management with suggestions and concerns -- is as important to me today as it was 20 years ago, so this is a challenge I work to overcome daily.
 
What advice can you offer women who are seeking to have their own business?
First and foremost, work hard. This applies to young entrepreneurs (men or women) in any field--you cannot achieve success without putting your whole self into the process. Secondly, listen to your clients and focus on their needs. Elicit genuine, constructive feedback, and make it a priority to continuously improve your strategy to reflect what your clients have to say. At the end of the day, it is what they think that truly matters.
 
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is one of the most difficult parts of being a successful entrepreneur, especially as a woman. There is a stigma surrounding motherhood for women in positions of power, and a constant implication that it's impossible to do both without sacrificing some aspect of one or the other. This is an implication I prove wrong regularly.
 
Timing played a large part in my getting to where I am now with my work/life balance. When the company was founded, we worked around the clock to get it off of the ground. The business was my child, my future. I gave it everything I had. At the time, though, I wasn't married and didn't have kids, so there wasn't as much of a need for that balance. Once the company began to grow, we built up the internal structure so that strong managers were in place to maintain accountability for each of their teams. As a result, I was able to move away from the 24-7 work schedule, and I can now spend nights and weekends with my husband and two sons.
 
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
We've all heard that playing nice is not going to get women to the corner office, yet when businesswomen demonstrate assertiveness or try to remove emotion from the professional world, they can be accused of being "pushy," "cold," or "uptight" -- words that are associated almost exclusively with women. When men exhibit the same characteristics, they are applauded for being "strong," "self-assured," and "business leaders." This double standard makes it difficult for women to find a comfortable balance in the workplace, because no matter how similarly they act to their male counterparts, their actions can be perceived in a completely different way simply due to their gender.
 
In the same vein, there is the mindset that business isn't personal, and that emotions should be kept out of the workplace, for men and women alike. For entrepreneurs, however, you put your entire heart and soul into making your business succeed. It's unrealistic to think that something so intertwined with your life as a whole can be detached entirely from emotions. I think this sentiment affects women much more than men, for when they exhibit emotions there tends to be the stronger reaction that they are somehow out of control or letting their feelings get the better of them, regardless of how unquestionably rational and well thought out their decisions may be at any given time. There needs to be an understanding that displaying emotion and still keeping a cool head when it comes to the final calls are not mutually exclusive.
 
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I was fortunate enough to be mentored by my boss at my first job in the translations industry. Not only did she provide valuable guidance for the field that I ultimately chose to pursue, but she was a crucial role model for me as a woman and rising executive at a time when I had very little else to direct me in those capacities. She helped give me my first glimpses into work/life balance techniques and gave me the confidence to pursue my professional and personal goals without feeling the need to stop and apologize for either one along the way. 
 
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I have a lot of respect for any woman who has been able to break into the upper echelons of the corporate world, but Marissa Mayer and Angela Ahrendts are two particularly strong examples of the success women can achieve in business. Mayer was able to rise through the ranks of a male-dominated industry, which takes a lot of dedication, in addition to a very tough skin. Ahrendts is a shining example of someone who started from the bottom of the ladder and worked her way to the very top, a truly commendable feat. I also admire that fact that she has not let her career get in the way of raising a family. Women can have both, but like any successful multitasking endeavor, it just requires a little extra work.