open letter to a vice president

Sat Oct-30th-2010 // Filed under: I Rant!

Dear Mr. H,

I got some e-mail from you today! Oh, I know it was a mass mailing sent out to all of your translation vendors, but rest assured I felt a very real personal connection. It immediately prompted a question, but I’ll get to that a little later. Let me give a little bit of context first.

The subject line alone (“Subject: Urgent and Important — Your Immediate Support Required”) was quite impressive. Perhaps you were in trouble? Perhaps you needed a couch to crash on. Or maybe you needed help moving! I’m always eager to support my friends.

Forgive me. I may be presumptuous; after all, we aren’t close. You’re the Vice President of something or the other at your company, and I’m some guy who did a bunch of translation for your Finnish office. It’s been, oh, probably about three years since the last time I did a job for you guys, but I’m still on your vendor list. Remember? Your company still sends me regular e-mails about your awesome new translation tool that you now apparently require all vendors to use. You know, the one they have to subscribe to! That was a nice one. I definitely think it’s very reasonable that the people you contract to do a job have to pay you for the privilege.

Anyway, I would send this to you directly, but it turns out that for some reason, you neglected to include your e-mail address in your sensitive and very touching e-mail. It’s almost as if you didn’t want to hear any feedback! Believe me, I thought long and hard about whether I should say this in public like this, and in the end I chickened out and removed your name and the name of your company. I don’t really care about burning bridges, but even so, I don’t want a rep as a guy who makes a public spectacle out of every little grievance. And yet this felt like something that I should say.

So, in that spirit, let me quote some of your words, just in case you forgot what you were saying. I’ll skip the boring parts — the dollar is weak, the economy is in a bad shape, blah blah — and cut to the chase:

In today’s uncertain economic environment customers expect all of us to deliver “more for less”. To remain competitive, we are all demanding more from ourselves to meet these challenges.

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 [company] projects. This discount is independent of any other agreements we may have in place with you.

Oh! Okay. Just between the two of us, I think that if I was still sending invoices your way, I might find this just a little teeny tiny bit horribly offensive and unreasonable. Not just because of the 5%, although that would certainly be a part of it, but because I have a sneaking suspicion that if I were to inform you that I require a 5% bonus on all projects, you would not be inclined to agree, no matter how well I explained how the global economic realities affect me.

You would most likely point out that we have an agreed-on rate for translation projects, and that I cannot just unilaterally increase it. At the very least, we would have to sit down and agree on a new rate, because, you know, that’s how things are done. I mean, I can’t go to my current employer and just inform them about my new salary. I’m probably going to have to ask for a raise. (If things work differently at your company, are you hiring? Because I think I could make that work for me — but then, that might explain why you feel like saving some money. Just saying.)

In any case, I fully understand that you really want to improve your profits for the last quarter of 2010, but demanding that your “translation vendors” — and just to be clear here, to a great extent, this euphemism actually refers to individual freelance translators — suddenly provide more for less seems kind of unreasonable. Call me crazy, but I don’t think you’re going to make it up to them later on. You’re not going to provide any job security, or bonuses, or stock options, or anything of the sort. After all, these are freelancers, right? The best they can hope for is that you do not stop providing them with new translation work. It’s kind of hard to not get the feeling that instead of a request for support, this is just plain old extortion. I mean, either people agree to this, or you just drop them. It’s not like you’re going to be providing them with any kind of severance pay, right?

My dear Mr. H, it seems to me that what you’re really saying here is, “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”

Are… are you Darth Vader?


19 Comments

  1. Darn, just dropped out of the vendor database of that company a week ago, so I didn’t get this heartwarming plea for help. I feel all left out now.

    Comment by Janos — October 30, 2010 @ 1288401578

  2. This just in:

    “Lionbridge Reports Highest Quarterly Profit in its History; Posts Q2 Revenue of $104.9 Million and Record GAAP Earnings of $4.6 Million, GAAP EPS of $0.08 and Non-GAAP EPS of $0.13”

    http://www.lionbridge.com/lionbridge/en-US/company/news/lionbridge-reports-highest-quarterly-profit-in-its-history-2010Q2-earnings.htm

    Comment by Transmangler — October 30, 2010 @ 1288441575

  3. Why am I not surprised?

    It ain’t money that’s the root of all evil. It’s greed. Pure, unadulterated greed.

    Comment by Nitpicker — October 30, 2010 @ 1288445990

  4. My email response to the mail from “Lionbridge Vendor Management – IMPORTANT – DO NOT REPLY”

    To: “Sara Buda” ,
    “Yvonne Cekel” ,
    “Michele Erwin” ,
    “Didier Helin”
    Subject: Fw: Urgent and Important — Your Immediate Support Required

    One of the silliest e-mails I ever received. The very nature of the communication and its on anonymity (further accentuated by the e-mail heading Important-Do Not Reply) underlines a fundamental weakness of the organization it represents as it has evolved over the years to become increasingly unwieldy and disconnected from its vendors. The larger it has become, the greater the frequency and number of forms I receive from this organization that have no relation to the nature of the work I do from people that I do not know, in itself a sign that this organization has lost touch with its marketplace.

    The irony is that the very consolidation trends underway in recent years and exemplified by the recent Donnelley /Bowne acquisition has also provided opportunities to smaller players to pick up business as larger organizations become increasingly unwieldy and experienced difficulty in maintaining consistent quality and value-added services based on local market knowledge. Indeed, with every example of consolidation I have seen, I have also seen the resulting companies lose business and/or margins on a net basis to smaller operators for these very reasons.

    As for the content of the e-mail, first there is the issue of the facts. Currency rates have of course continued to fluctuate over the past couple of years, with the euro reaching a high approaching 1.50, followed by a sharp reversal during the sovereign debt crisis in Europe. The latter trend of the euro’s decline was met with general satisfaction here in Europe by business owners by reducing pressures on prices. In recent months the dollar has once again started to fall back though now looks ready for an upturn as concerns about European debt resurface. Before this period of currency volatility and when the euro and US dollar were closer to parity however, there were no complaints by US companies about vendor rates. And even during the Euro’s peak following the collapse of Lehman Brothers did necessarily precipitate further price negotiations or foreign exchange-driven adjustments. In fact, the low US dollar over the last two years following the financial market collapse had already given rise to considerable price concessions by vendors based in Europe.

    At the same time, as yesterday’s New York Times reported the U.S. Economy Grew at 2% Rate in Third Quarter following 4.4% in second. And there is general consensus that despite the fragility of the recovery, company earnings trendshave been consistently positive over the last year.

    When I started, my work originated in large part from agencies like yours in time supplemented by direct customers that I initially added almost solely as a way of staying focused and maintaining a sense of accountability for the quality of work and remaining in touch with the priorities of the end-customer.

    And as agencies like yourself have continued to go through transformations through consecutive business combinations, becoming larger and in sometimes more unwieldy and bureaucratic, the era of a close relationships and camaraderie fostered by certain agencies began to give way to impersonalized management of vendors (exemplified by the multiple occasion of all sorts of massive e-mailing us and forms) with work priced more like commodities based on simple word volume and translators pretty much treated like sweatshop textile workers of yore.

    In response to these developments, my business mix has inevitably shifted to close to 90% direct customers and 10% agencies. while in part driven by personal inclination, this shift also reflects the disconnect of the large agencies following the wave of mergers and acquisitions in the sector with their market. While it is true that pricing has remained an issue, the de-personalized nature of the resulting organizations exemplified by this letter have also contributed to this trend. The result is that more and more of the market has been snapped up by individuals or small operations like myself able to offer something that your organization can no longer provide. This represents the reverse side of the coin of the delocalization of the market as new technologies allow smaller players to provide higher quality services than large organizations in a more cost-efficient manner while maintaining better margins. Paradoxically, when I do myself have recourse to outside vendors, my policy is to pay them as much as possible for reasons of motivation, ensuring their commitment to the project, availability and quality.

    Tom

    Former head of corporate communication’s for AIG’s European operations, editor of a major US publishing house and translator in the financial and investor relations sector for the last 15 years.

    Comment by T Judge — October 30, 2010 @ 1288451592

  5. Apparently short-sighted cost cutting is typical of a company that is looking for a naive buyer, and companies doing such things frequently also post “record profits” for a quarter. The idea is to manipulate their statistics to arrange for income to be greatest, and outgoing payments lowest, exactly in the last quarter that the new owners will be able to inspect before buying. When that happens, the formerly naive new owners find themselves left with a customer base that needs immediate attention (or is already gone) because of how quality is affected, and with a name so dirtied in the vendor community that they have the greatest imaginable trouble resurrecting the name they paid for.

    Comment by Gerard Michael Burns — October 31, 2010 @ 1288490866

  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeF7ykpRRc4&feature=player_embedded#!

    Good rendition exemplifying Lionbridge negotiating tactics with translators on YouTube

    Comment by T Judge — October 31, 2010 @ 1288548856

  7. This is indeed one of the silliest and most insulting e-mails I’ve ever received and I consider it a unilateral breach of the SLA which I therefore consider no longer valid.

    Farewell, Liox. Rest assured I will NOT miss you.

    Comment by Stan — October 31, 2010 @ 1288566512

  8. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lotta, Ellen Westenbrink. Ellen Westenbrink said: Another valid point, which I overlooked in my own response to Mr. D.H. #xl8 #vertalen http://bit.ly/9vS9P7 […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Fun Pastimes for Stupid Children » open letter to a vice president -- Topsy.com — November 1, 2010 @ 1288617433

  9. The same company today: “On October 29, 2010, we sent a message to all vendors. In this message, the sender name contained “DO NOT REPLY.” This was unintended. In fact, we welcome your response[…] We apologize for any misunderstanding caused by this error.”

    Error my ass.

    Comment by Samalla postituslistalla — November 2, 2010 @ 1288695324

  10. No doubt having sent an e-mail to Hélin’s personal address with his entire board in copy also contributed, albeit his mea culpa was only a modest concession with respect to the form and not the substance of his original mail…

    Comment by T Judge — November 2, 2010 @ 1288698044

  11. Yeah, I got the same “apology” — it’s so nice to see them address the thing that really offended people. I wonder if they actually believe that this is going to smooth things over?

    Comment by Mikki — November 2, 2010 @ 1288703651

  12. An undated interview, but still worth reading:

    http://www.gala-global.org/articles/interview-didier-heacutelin

    Comment by Laurent Krauland — November 2, 2010 @ 1288712329

  13. […] Update: Here is another reasonable response. […]

    Pingback by Lionbridge does it again… « Musings from an overworked translator — November 2, 2010 @ 1288722418

  14. I guess it was intended as a marketing move. See how many people speak about it. But I don’t think it was a good idea anyway. (:

    Comment by Mykhailo — November 3, 2010 @ 1288751656

  15. As a former Lionbridge employee who has worked with Mr. H I am not surprised by this uproar. What I am (pleasantly) surprised at is your metaphor of Darth Vader. When I worked there we nicknamed the building the Death Star. While at the time we consider H more of an Emperor Palpatine, the analogy still stands. I just can’t believe it made the same impression all the way over in Finland. Certain truths must be self evident. Good luck with the pay cut… and even better luck if you join the rebel forces and tell the Lions to stick it.

    Comment by wampa — November 3, 2010 @ 1288759024

  16. Well, wampa, as I said, I’m not actually working for Lionbridge these days, so it doesn’t really affect me personally. (I don’t even do translation, these days.) I’m pretty sure the first time I even became aware of the dude’s existence was when that e-mail hit my inbox.

    Hell of a first impression, though!

    Comment by Mikki — November 3, 2010 @ 1288777862

  17. One way to possibly escalate this concern for fairness is to make more powerful stakeholders who will care what this mean for the future of the company.

    Identify all the research analysts that cover LIOX and inform them in a clear and dispassionate tone how this move will very likely cause the best translators to refuse to work with LIOX and result is lower quality for many services provided by LIOX thus resulting in customers leaving and a lower stock price. Remember that these are the guys who publicly quiz the executive management about how things are going every quarter and also write reports to inform interested investors what they think about the company and its future. Here is a start:
    • Vafi, Joeseph of Jeffries & Co
    • Baldry, Richard of Signal Hill Group LLC
    • Hynes, David of Canaccord Genuity
    • Liu, Kevin of B. Riley & Company, Inc.
    • They also have coverage by Friedman Billings, Matrix Research, First Albany and Piper Jaffrey so find the analysts and let them know why you think LIOX has a shaky future
    Identify the Investment Officers at their largest institutional investor firms and inform them why LIOX may be a bad investment and why their stock price is likely to fall, again in a dispassionate and clear way so that they understand that there is a real risk of the stock price collapsing and staying in the gutter.

    This link provides a list of all their largest Institutional Investment holders http://finance.yahoo.com/q/mh?s=LIOX+Major+Holders
    Find their addresses/emails and make sure they hear about this from you and all your best friends who disagree with this policy.

    Write them all an email explaining the role of the translator in the localization supply chain making sure they understand that quality comes from good translators who are likely to work best when they feel fairly compensated. You could also explain how alienating good translators will undermine LIOX quality in the long run. LIOX will probably have a story on how easily translators are replaceable – it is important to explain that like in any other profession, the best translators are not so easily replaced. Give them examples of how bad translators undermine product and services offered by LIOX.

    Then attach a link to all the blogs that explain why this is unfair / bad strategy etc.. There is a good summary of the LIOX Crowdscorning with many links at http://t.co/ArVJtc7 I suggest that an even and considered tone like the one employed by Kevin Lossner will be the most effective way to make your point. Angry people are tiresome and best ignored.

    Make sure that you and a 100 of your best friends send some form of this summary to anybody who is interested in investing in LIOX stock or currently owns a significant amount of LIOX stock.

    Make it clear that this is likely to cause the following:
    • Loss in service and product quality
    • Increasingly lower quality translators working for Lionbridge which will be reflected in their deliverables
    • Imminent and sustained drop in LIOX stock price (i.e. it will be very hard for the stock to rise again)
    • Continued losses as some large customers realize that they have so much ill will that it is going to affect their ability to deliver services and choose to find other suppliers who have better relations with the supply chain
    • Perception of LIOX as a sweatshop which will make many blue chip customers shy away and avoid LIOX as a supplier

    If you do this, I think you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that you have done everything you can to let the authorities know about this. If you are lucky this will even cause Rory and Didier to get a severe hand slapping from the investors and possibly even issue an apology to all the people who received the infamous letter. Even if there are no visible signs of remorse I suspect there will be some back room chats that will make the boys tread much more carefully in future.

    But my real advice to all of you is that you are probably best served by finding new people (SLVs too) to work with, who treat you with more respect and fairness and realize that in this industry quality is accomplished through human partnerships. Working with people who recognize and acknowledge your value always makes for a better life. Right?

    Good Luck.

    Comment by Rory C — November 11, 2010 @ 1289515717

  18. Good blog – really made me laugh! So glad we ditched L long ago.

    Comment by Chris S — November 19, 2010 @ 1290180386

  19. Terve, mielenkiintoinen postaus.

    Comment by Pelirohmu — March 20, 2014 @ 1395322523

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