Eriksen Translations Celebrates 35 Years: Q&A With Founder & CEO Vigdis Eriksen
October 22, 2021 marks Eriksen Translations’ 35th anniversary, and we couldn’t be more excited to celebrate all that we’ve accomplished over the years. What started as a small team working out of a Brooklyn artist’s loft has grown into a thriving company with linguists around the world supporting more than 100 languages.
To celebrate this milestone, Founder and CEO Vigdis Eriksen took a moment to reflect on the past 35 years. She offers insights on running a mission-driven company and describes how it all began.
Where did Eriksen Translations get its start? What led you to found a translation company?
My roots trace back to Norway, where I grew up on a small farm outside Fredrikstad, about an hour’s train ride south of Oslo. My love of languages began in school, where I studied my native Norwegian along with English, French, and German. Later I spent a year in Paris where I further developed my French, then lived for three years in the Netherlands where I learned Dutch. A career in language beckoned, though I didn’t know it at the time. I wanted to become an actress.
I have always been drawn to adventure and attracted to diversity, so I decided to move to New York to study theater. However, after a few years with no Broadway in sight, I found myself in need of a new career. This was before the internet, and there were few, if any, professional Norwegian translators working in the United States. I began translating and quickly realized I had found my calling. To develop my skills, I spent a few years living and breathing the craft of translation. After perfecting the trade, I began to hire people and build teams.
In the early days, Eriksen Translations consisted of several translators specializing in the Scandinavian languages. How did the company grow?
The internet led to rapid growth in the language industry. As companies began doing business online, the need for translation grew, and we hired more staff and expanded our network of linguists to keep pace. Whereas we once sponsored translators from Scandinavia and brought them to the U.S. to work in the office, we were suddenly able to engage a vast network of linguists around the world.
Today, Eriksen Translations consists of more than 30 staff members with hundreds of freelance linguists living and working at all ends of the globe. We support 100+ languages, and our services have expanded to include typesetting and localization for web, apps, e-learning, and multimedia.
The language services industry has seen enormous change over the past few decades. What defines your approach in a crowded industry that is rapidly evolving?
There has been a lot of change, and we have reinvented ourselves to stay relevant and effectively support our clients as their business needs have evolved. That said, the core drivers of our business have remained consistent. My linguistic foundations drive the company’s commitment to high-quality translations, and I seek out people who support this vision. We’re a company of people who appreciate and respect language.
Translation is not a word-to-word correlation from one language to the next. It is nuanced and complex; it’s both an art and a science. Professional translators are dedicated to the act of facilitating communication, and they hone their skills through years of experience and by living and working within a specific culture. Translation requires discipline, study, and continued practice, along with an appreciation for the nuances of language.
This respect for language and commitment to translation quality has always been at the core of our business. And we know quality and accuracy are mission-critical for many of our clients. We work for major museums and cultural institutions, global financial services firms, and NGOs and nonprofits that are doing meaningful, impactful work. They need us to get it right.
What is one piece of advice you can offer to other entrepreneurs?
Hire people who are smarter than you are. It’s impossible to be an expert in every area you oversee. You need to be able to hire people with the expertise you need, trust them to do what they’re capable of, and challenge them to push themselves. By hiring smart, dedicated people, we continue to raise the bar in every aspect of the business. I have an amazing team that thinks creatively and solves problems.
It’s also important to have staff that share your values. My staff is motivated by a passion to help people communicate and make a positive impact on society. Translation helps spread information, knowledge, and ideas, and it gives people greater access to art, literature, and history. Through translation, we promote inclusivity-linguistic and cultural-in the workplace and within our communities. My staff is passionate about these things, and they love the work that we do.
As you reflect on 35 years, what are some things that make you proud?
We’ve achieved a lot since our founding. I’m especially proud of the work that we do to support immigrants and other local residents with limited English proficiency. Here in New York, we found ourselves at the epicenter of the global pandemic last March. Even as we were all stuck in our homes, we were proud to have the opportunity to contribute to our city in a meaningful way. Communication was essential. People with limited English proficiency needed equal access to public health guidelines, testing, and later, vaccination. We helped city and state agencies disseminate critical information in the languages spoken by New Yorkers, so people could understand how to keep themselves and their neighborhoods safe. It makes me proud that we could use our skills to help our neighbors and our communities.
What comes next?
It is exciting to be a part of the rapidly changing language services industry. According to the recent U.S. Census, all population growth from 2010 to 2020 (22.7 million) is attributable to people of color, who now comprise 41% of the population. The face of America continues to change. Organizations know they need content that is more representative of this diverse population. Cities and states are responding to this growing ethnic and linguistic diversity.
In the midst of this social change, our company continues to evolve. The pandemic has prompted us to embrace a fully remote model, which allows us to hire the best people anywhere, who in turn provide the best service for our clients. Going forward, we will strive to find new ways to solve our clients’ challenges as their organizations change and grow.
And we plan to keep going strong. We are growing and are excited to see what the next decade will bring. And we are so very thankful for our staff, linguists, clients, partners, and friends. Without you, we would not be the company we are today.