Interview With the Author: The General Theory of the Translation Company
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Interview With the Author: The General Theory of the Translation Company

Interview With the Author: The General Theory of the Translation Company

The General Theory - Book Cover

Our industry is one-of a kind, sitting at the crossroads of culture, linguistics and language, and IT. It’s a weird place where language nerds and technology geeks meet. Most people in localization come from the disciplines of business, technology or linguistics, but rarely all three (or even two). So who among us, when we were new to localization, wouldn’t have loved a book explaining the industry?

Well, it’s happened. Renato Beninatto and Tucker Johnson have written such a book. Believe me, you want to hear from these guys: together they represent 46 years of localization expertise. 

Renato Beninatto is an engaging and charismatic man, easy to laugh and quick to joke around. He likes to describe himself as a contrarian, but behind his quips and challenges there is solid business acumen. He’s a fixture in the industry and speaks often at conferences.

Tucker Johnson.jpg

Tucker Johnson, book co-author
and Program Director at Moravia

And Tucker Johnson values a little sarcasm too. He also takes his work seriously and is excellent at what he does. He started as a translator and has worked his way up to senior-level operations and account management at Moravia. His hands-on expertise in managing localization programs makes him an asset to clients and colleagues alike.

I interviewed Tucker on the output of their collaboration: The General Theory of the Translation Company.

LD: Firstly, who is this book for?

TJ: Well, first, people deserve a better foundation than I had when I was starting in the industry. There is no single source of information available.

We wrote this for localization professionals, industry veterans, young entrepreneurs, language services buyers, investors…any loc-related audience really, anyone who wants to understand the big picture. But, particularly for young entrepreneurs or freelance translators who are starting out in the industry or industry outsiders who are interested in learning more about what goes on behind the scenes. It will provide them a lot of the “what” and the “why” of how to get started in localizaton.

LD: Why YOU? How were you qualified to write this book?

TJ: Renato invited me to write this book with him. I asked him “why me?” He says, “Tucker, because I read your Facebook posts and they make me laugh.” I guess that’s all the qualification I needed!

No really, we’ve both dedicated years to this industry, watched it evolve over time and gotten to know what makes the industry tick.

I feel that it’s not just a job, not just a career, but also a passion and a way of life. So, I have that going for me—a love of the industry.

As for Renato, he’s just got loads of expertise over more than three decades in the industry. Much of the book is based around a course that he teaches down at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies. His course covers everything that this book is about.

LD: Why did you write it?

TJ: I wanted to challenge people and to present a new way of thinking about things in a way that is palatable to people—not a textbook. The book isn’t meant to answer all the questions. It’s meant to start a dialogue and start a conversation.

LD: What’s the basic premise?

TJ: Our book is built on three ideas.

First, you have market influencers, which are industry forces that lead to risk and opportunity. Like, new entrants, substitutes, the bargaining power of customers and suppliers, and competitive rivalry.

Then you have support activities, things that create a framework to minimize risk and maximize opportunity. These empower what we call the core functions. These support activities are management, structure, culture, finance, facilities and HR, quality assurance, and technology.

And lastly, you have those core functions. Things that actually add value to clients. They are vendor management, project management and sales.

So these things form the basis of this book, but I’m not going to explain more here. The readers of this interview will need to read the book for themselves.

LD: Give me one key concept from the book that you think is controversial.

TJ: That sales roles can add value to a customer. You know, there’s always the perception that sales is just out there to…well, sell. They are interested in growing their business more than they are in solving your business problems. And in many industries that’s true.  

But through sales, and by extension through marketing, LSPs can provide education. We speak at conferences, we put on webinars, we write blogs full of thought leadership and tactical tips. Our customers are engaging with this stuff before they ever even talk to us—it’s part of how people buy these days.

Maybe the buyer will go to a blog and read some stuff, or go to a webinar, and even before that person is engaged with an actual sales person, he has learned about problems in the industry, possible solutions and certainly about the questions he needs to ask. So then, for example, a client will put forward a well-written RFP, because that person’s done their research, read the blogs, listened to the webinars, been educated by the marketing material that’s already out there. So, she’s able to capably qualify a vendor and look at localization processes. That’s what marketing does—well, should do. And then during the selling process this person learns even more, right? You get it, the theme is learning; becoming an empowered buyer.

Also, a good marketing and sales function will walk with the client, holding their hand through that process. This is all adding value to the entire process, even before a contract is even signed. Bringing them stuff that actually makes their jobs easier.


Intriguing, right?

Renato and Tucker’s book is easy reading. It goes into enough depth to be illuminating but doesn’t bog you down with details and fancy language. Its light tone makes it fun to read. You can get your copy here.