Celebrating 20 years in the linguistic services business, Choice Translating founders Michelle and Vernon Menard look back as witnesses to a technology revolution that has certainly changed the fundamental ways in which they do business. Yet what has been most critical to them has been to maintain their extreme dedication to accuracy, precision and localized style—something that has been appreciated by the organizations they serve.
One client, Travis Dowell, director of international sales with Otto-Environmental Systems, speaks to their performance. “The services and support Choice Translating has provided us have been ‘second to none,’” he says.
“The team’s assistance on a conference call with our Mexico City distributor was extremely helpful in gleaning every nuance on a sales call and led to large orders for Mexico. We may not have realized record sales to Mexico without Choice Translating’s support and accurate services.”
Transition to Translating
The Choice Translating story began with Michelle, who was at the time pursuing degrees in French and International Business at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The manager of the restaurant where she was working part-time asked about her post-graduation plans. She replied that she wasn’t sure.
He asked, “Why don’t you start your own business?” Seeing her blank expression, he added, “translating.”
The manager’s question didn’t just come out of the blue. He knew Michelle was fluent in French, that she did some freelance translating, and that she sometimes edited her mother’s translating assignments. It came naturally to Michelle, born in Charleston, S.C., of a French mother and schooled in France for grades 1 through 3.
“Until I was 18, I spoke more French than English,” she remarks.
With her mother, Michelle started Choice Translating & Interpreting in 1995. From their home, they translated written documents and interpreted the spoken word.
It worked that way until 1998. Michelle graduated from UNC Charlotte and mother and daughter took separate business paths. Soon after, Michelle met Vernon Menard, who owned a Charlotte company that made and exported racks, enclosures and accessories for data communications equipment.
Vernon had concentrated on International Studies and Spanish at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. He spoke fluent Spanish but knew he needed professional help with translating sales and marketing material for South America.
“Vernon was working on a Saturday and faxed a document to the business,” Michelle remembers. She arranged a business meeting with him. Ten months later, they started dating; they married in September 2001.
Vernon invested in Choice Translating. In 1999, Vernon and Michelle moved the firm into the Ben Craig Center, a business incubator now known as PORTAL (Partnership, Outreach, and Research to Accelerate Learning) at UNC Charlotte. The same year they hired their first employee, and Vernon sold his business in 2000.
In the incubator, the couple learned quickly. “They taught us how to get government contracts,” Michelle says. “They taught us how to grow, but not too fast, and about human resources issues and hiring the right people.”
When the pair emerged from the incubator, they’d simplified the name to Choice Translating and adopted a gyroscope logo because, Michelle says, “It is used for navigation and represents stability in motion.”
Choice Translating’s uptown office location is central to their regional customer base and not far from where they now live on North Church Street. The offices are designed with a quiet area for translating, separated from the louder interpreting function.
On the 15th floor of Tryon Plaza, they have a suite of individual spaces and conference rooms for their staff of project managers and the technology infrastructure to provide translating and interpreting services in over 200 languages.
The homegrown business now has 20 years of service, with 15 employees, 300 independent contractors in Charlotte, and many more contractors around the globe, and will achieve $3 million in annual revenues in 2015.
“Choice Translating has become a full-service linguistics company concentrating on translating, interpreting, linguistic and cultural brand name validation and tagline localization,” touts Vernon. “We serve many industries— manufacturing, law, energy, health care, HR, marketing, eLearning, government and non-profit sectors.”
Selected as one of the Charlotte Business Journal’s 2014 Best Places to Work, Choice Translating leverages industry best practices for quality, world-class project managers, highly trained professional translators and interpreters, and the latest technology to ensure client success in the global economy.
Michelle remarks, “We tailor our process and adoption of industry best practices to our clients’ needs and guide them through the translation process to deliver optimal quality and excellent customer service.”
By services, she means translation, interpretation, software and website localization, desktop publishing and voice-overs. The company is a certified Woman-Owned Business and a champion of diversity.
The business has grown consistently in annual sales and is now the Carolinas’ largest locally-owned linguistics agency. The company is in the top 50 such firms in the United States, out of several thousand.
“It’s a very fragmented industry,” Vernon explains. “We’re already in the top one percent. There’s a small group of companies that are significantly larger. We will stay true to our purpose and core values, enjoy what we do while helping our clients be successful, and have steady, healthy growth.”
Michelle smiles as she remembers her original goal of attaining an annual sales number that “required two commas.”
“We first hit $1 million in 2001,” she says. “We’ve grown every year.” She remarks that they have just completed their fifth quarter with record sales of a new planning cycle. She had set a goal of doubling their business in three years and they are on track to meet that objective.
Translating the Difference
Vernon is the self-proclaimed “Entelechy Guy,” a word dating back to Aristotle meaning making real what was previously only potential. “Entelechy is part of everything we do at Choice Translating,” contributes Vernon. “We maximize the power and reach of our clients’ communication, and we continually develop the capabilities of our team. In short, we don’t just see potential; we identify and develop unique ability, and then find delivery vehicles for it in order to make the world smaller, more connected, and a better place to be.
“At Choice Translating every member of our team has something important to contribute and each one of our stakeholders—including suppliers, colleagues, community and clients—is integral to our success.
“Because our team is proactively accountable and engaged,” Vernon adds, “we provide maximum freedom and flexibility through a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Our people thrive in small, focused, solution-oriented teams and high-energy environments, and believe that everyone has the ability to change the world, one word at a time.”
Besides its staff, Choice Translating employs independent contractors around the globe. The Menards used to find them while attending industry conferences but, these days, linguists as far away as Russia and Saudi Arabia contact the company.
Choice Translating’s project managers and account managers quote prices based on individual projects. “We have experience handling lots of different projects, so we give firm quotes,” Michelle says.
In testament to their services, a client from Physicians Reach Out comments, “I never hesitate to call Choice Translating when I have an urgent need for interpreting services for our patients. Choice Translating staff members consistently accommodate us on a last-minute basis, as well as work with us on routine requests.
“Without a reliable interpreting service, some of our patients would have no access to health care information in their native languages. Choice Translating provides them with the bridge they need to follow through on their health care needs.
“That’s something on which we cannot place a value. It is a pleasure working with such a wonderful group of folks at Choice Translating that recognize the importance of providing quality customer service. Kudos to them for their positive, winning attitude.”
Choice Translating has also had kudos from one government agency that is a stickler for accuracy, “The important thing to us is that Choice Translating’s translators are certified. There are lots of people who speak languages, but with a certified translator, we’re confident that when we need to communicate information, whether it’s updates on public projects or what to do in emergency situations, it’s translated clearly and accurately.”
“Translation has been around since the beginning of time, but especially since we launched in 1995, it has become extremely high tech,” remarks Michelle. “To achieve the accuracy, precision and localized style required by organizations serving diverse local and international audiences, our professionally trained project managers integrate teams of highly specialized human translators, editors, proofreaders, graphic designers and technology experts by leveraging cutting-edge, cloud-based project management and collaboration tools, industry best practices and the latest translation quality assurance technology.”
At the same time, Michelle is insightful about the future: “As far as Google Translate and other machine translation tools, one day they will do certain kinds of translation competently. Then professional translation agencies will harness that productive capability to expand production capacity, speed up turnaround time and dramatically reduce costs for consumers.
“Essentially, machine translation will one day take over the work of translating basic, straightforward, completely unambiguous texts, and translation of highly complex, highly specialized and highly nuanced text will remain in the hands of human specialists.”
Choice Translating leverages high-end technology. For example, in one situation they were tasked with translating a training document for a gas turbine power plant in Mexico. It was filled with thermodynamics terminology. Expert project managers, industry best practices, and technology tools helped a 22-member translation team create a 3,500-line glossary of technical terms that kept word usage consistent for 3,000 pages.
Choice Translating prides itself on dependable service and helping their clients be successful. Rob Hawse, founder and president of CRAFTED, shares, “Our client and the CRAFTED team were very impressed with Choice Translating. Their staff were very knowledgeable, professional and pulled together. Thanks for making us look good!”
“We want long-term customers,” Michelle assures. “If they are extremely satisfied, they’re going to spread the word about our business.”
For brand name validation services, Choice consults with linguists in more than 80 countries. Using a customized Web-based application they answer questions about the possible meanings and connotations of proposed product names. Michelle remembers a name for a diet pill that its maker was fond of. Research showed the proposed moniker meant “You’re fat” in French.
The Choice Translating team believes strongly in community and have dubbed their community service focus, “Choice Cares.” “Our community service program is a commitment to donate one percent of our time, one percent of our product, and one percent of our profit to reduce poverty and promote peace at home and around the world,” says Michelle.
The team is also active on many boards and committees including: UNC Charlotte’s Foundation Board, Women in Leadership Board, Belk College Board of Advisors, the Charlotte Chamber Soccer Task Force, the Charlotte Compassion Action Network, the Charlotte International Arbitration Society’s Advisory Board and International House’s Young Professionals Board of Advisors in addition to participating in many community development projects including the City’s Immigrant Integration Task Force.
In addition, Choice Translating provides interpreters free of charge to help the Charlotte Community Health Clinic serve indigent immigrants who do not speak English.
Laura Rankin-Allen, from the Charlotte Community Health Clinic, comments, “We are blown away with the response we have gotten from the Choice Translating team. They are amazing and are making such a difference in the care the patients receive, not to mention the mental health of our providers! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Michelle and Vernon believe the company culture is healthy and powerful. Says Vernon, “Clients recognize us as ‘yes’ people who leverage the positive, creative power of ‘yes’ and avoid the limiting power of ‘no.’ We are proactively accountable (See it, Own it, Solve it, Do it) as individuals and as a team, and all of our team members strive to be anticipatory leaders in their areas of responsibility.”
Michelle adds, “We support the growth of the Charlotte USA region as an international trade hub and world-recognized center of commerce, knowledge and culture. As we serve our clients and the community, we make the world smaller, more connected, and a better place to be.”