A Mistranslation Thanksgiving: Berlin to Waltham

by Translation Guy on December 6, 2010

In my last post, I wanted to write about Thanksgiving and the decision by Lionbridge to cut all payments to vendors by 5%. I was curious about the decision-making process behind that and began my research by watching Hitler Bunker videos, which ended up hijacking the post to war-torn Berlin.

Next stop, Waltham, MA, world headquarters of Lionbridge.  Didier Hélin, Vice President of World Wide Vendor & Supply Chain Management at Lionbridge, sends a now infamous “IMPORTANT – DO NOT REPLY” message to every vendor at the time of the big American Translators Association Conference. “Against the backdrop of this negative economic context, effective November 1, 2010 through January 1, 2011 we require all our partners to provide a 5% discount on all Lionbridge projects.” Nice touch, like sticking a hornet’s nest. To catch the buzz, check out the hornet’s nest over at No Peanuts! for Translators.

Lionbridge took this radical and dramatic step to send a message to investors that they were serious about getting costs of goods sold under control and restoring profitability. So far, so good, but this signal flare fired for the benefit of Wall Street also had an impact when it landed among vendors, some at least who are very mad and eager to turn the tables.

Miguel Llorens of Financial Translation Blog calls on contractors to tell friends and analysts about these Lionbridge bad guys. “Communicate to colleagues. . . your opinion that Lionbridge is a low-wage, low-quality provider and that collaborating with or working for a company that is viewed negatively carries a stigma.”

As an old public relations guy, that kind of outreach sounds pretty ambitious. I don’t think the corporate buyers that Lionbridge seeks as a customer base are going to take too much stock of how nasty Lionbridge is to their vendors. Lionbridge is not particularly unique in that regard in this industry or in these hard times. The first lesson taught at the Clark Institute for Translation Prosperity is “no one likes a whiny vendor.” On the other hand, Miguel may be on to something that truly embodies the meaning of Thanksgiving. I’ll save that for next time.

Aside from corporate numbers gone south, the other hand of this tragedy is firmly grasping GeoWorkz, Lionbridge’s subscription-based online Translation Workspace. To work for Lionbridge, freelance translators must sign up for a user license in order to provide translations through the GeoWorkz translation system. More specifically, translators are required to pay a subscription to the Job Posting Pilot Program in order to view and apply for any work.

This software-as-service vision, the construction of a pay-to-access translation environment is, I have been told, the vision of one man. As an environment that you have to pay into in order to get a chance to get underpaid for your work, it doesn’t seem like something that will sell on its own merits. So a big imbalance in the power relationship between vendor and reseller is required to enforce such a regime. Quarterly profitability demands in this case required Lionbridge management to shit in their own GeoWorkz nest. It’s one thing to pull the rug out from under a vendor, but if the vendor is paying for the rug, as vendors do for GeoWorkz, it’s a pretty shitty way to treat your customers (even if they are vendors). This short-term move is going to make it harder to sell GeoWorkz, which many think is unsellable anyway. So perhaps crushing the boss’s dream will work out to their advantage.

And how this related to Thanksgiving will be served up shortly.


  1. Dear TG,

    You misread my proposal. I did not call on people to write to LIOX’s corporate buyers but to shareholders and analysts.

    • Ken says:

      Careless of me, Miguel. Mea Kulpa

  2. Alex says:

    I’ve never been on the books of LionBridge as a vendor, but have received this kind of email from other large translation agencies in the past.

  3. Billie Moss says:

    A software-as-service vision? This is a crazy mans demented dream!

  4. foxguy says:

    Blatant inaccuracies in the claimed reasons for the demand, bad move.

  5. That’s just wrong, I hope it hurt them.

  6. Jan Brown says:

    Didier Hélin is obviously a dick…

    • Ken says:

      Jan, its obvious that everyone in the business now thinks that Didier is a dick, and his execution may have been a bit off. But that doesn’t mean he’s really a dick. He deserves a medal from the shareholders, throwing his reputation on the cost grenade when the chips (and stock prices) were down.

  7. Erin Finch says:

    Just say no to thugs!

  8. shakabra says:

    This does not sit well since LionBridge has recently reported record quarterly profits. Bad on you Lions.

  9. I’m not an investor in the stock market, but I must say that I am pleased to see Lionbridge’s stock come up in the last three months. It’s an impressive appreciation, and it gives me the feeling that I should have put my money there. Definitely a better return than many companies around.

    Although I am not a stock analyst and I don’t know why the appreciation happened, I am happy to see that Lionbridge stock is recovering its value. Ken what’s up here?

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