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30 Years of Advice: Values, Heart, Passion

By: Vigdis Eriksen, Founder & CEO - Eriksen Translations Inc.

01 November 2016

This year, Eriksen Translations celebrates its 30th Anniversary. This is an exciting milestone, and a great time to step back, look at the company’s trajectory, and share some of the factors that have made us into the company we are today. We hope passing on some lessons we've learned will be useful to other industry organizations as well!

To illustrate how far we’ve come, I’ll start with how Eriksen Translations began. I came to New York from Norway with dreams of becoming an actress.

It was my passion for languages, however, that became my life’s work. Fluent in English, French, and Dutch, along with my mother tongue Norwegian, I began working as a freelance translator. Then, I took the plunge.

In 1986, armed with a typewriter and working out of an artist’s loft with a handful of driven linguists, I founded Eriksen Translations. Today, with a staff of 20 and thousands of freelancers, we provide services in more than 100 languages to clients around the world.

Armed with a typewriter and working out of an artist’s loft with a handful of driven linguists, I founded Eriksen Translations.

Like any business, we have had our share of challenges as well as successes, but one thing I pride myself on is running a business based on my values. For better or worse, money has never been my prime motivator. I'm interested in doing business in a meaningful way, for clients who make the world a better place. For me, this means working with organizations who nurture creativity, promote peace, and support diversity and inclusion.

There have been times when I’ve turned down projects based on my principles, and even once refused work with a defense contractor by telling him, “I don’t work for the war machine.” My company’s culture reflects these standards, and I actively seek out staff members who are similarly motivated and push us forward with these ideals in mind.

A few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • Surround yourself with talented, inspired team members and nurture their talent. We seek to hire the best and brightest, and Eriksen has supported internship programs run by some of the industry’s top universities. Over the years, a number of these interns have grown to become some of our most valued long-term employees.
  • Make your business a great place to work. We strive to provide a work environment where camaraderie means having each other's back, sharing successes, recognizing each other’s talents, and helping one another improve. As a result, we have many long-term employees, and a flexible, collaborative culture that develops everyone’s strengths. We also treat the whole team to “wine-o’clock” every Friday as a way to unwind and celebrate the week’s successes.
  • Learn from the challenges. Our partnership with Skype taught us a valuable lesson. It was a fantastic nine-year relationship, with Eriksen working as Skype’s primary localization vendor as they grew from a small startup into a major international player - until they were acquired by Microsoft. Skype comprised a significant percentage of our business, and the loss hurt. Clients come and go for reasons beyond your control, and we learned the importance of diversifying our business and our client base.  
  • Do not remain static. Demand for translation services is growing at the same time that technology is transforming the landscape and presenting new opportunities. Always keep an eye on the future. Continually evaluate what you’re good at, where you can be competitive, and where you want to go.

Today, I am still running a company that is producing work I can be proud of. I have a passion for the arts, and value giving artists and their work larger avenues for exposure. We have worked hard to make Eriksen a go-to translation provider for most of the premier museums around the country. I also value supporting a multicultural society, and I am pleased that we have had many opportunities to support local New York communities, as well as nonprofits and startups.

After 30 years, the advice I can give to any budding entrepreneurs is to build your business from your heart, based on your values and your passions. It might not be the easiest journey, but if you can make it one you care about and you are proud of, it’s worth it.

Vigdis Eriksen

Vigdis Eriksen is founder and CEO of Eriksen Translations Inc., a leading provider of multilingual services in over 100 languages. A native of Norway, Vigdis has over thirty years of experience in the translation industry and speaks English, French, and Dutch along with her mother tongue Norwegian. In her early years as a freelancer, she identified the need for a translation company specializing in the Scandinavian languages and founded Eriksen Translations in 1986. With the 1994 acquisition of AdEx Translations International, Eriksen expanded its language combinations and grew to employ over twenty people and thousands of freelance translators around the world. Today, Vigdis guides the company’s strategic vision and oversees daily operations to ensure that all of Eriksen’s projects meet the standard of excellence that has become the company’s hallmark.