We are pleased to introduce you to a new series of interviews with SeproTec experts. The first interview in the series is with our Head of Vendor Management, Estrella Ruiz—so let’s go!
Estrella Ruiz, Head of Vendor Management at SeproTec, handles the VM Team, recruiting, and the onboarding of translation providers (vendors). We would like to understand Estrella’s role better, so let’s get started!
- Can you tell us how it all began?
Well, ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by languages, especially English, so it was clear to me that my future professional career would be one related to languages.
First, I studied for a college degree in Tourism and Business Activities. After a few internships and temporary positions in companies within the tourism sector (travel agencies and hotels), I realized this was not really my thing. I started studying for another degree in Translation and Interpreting at the University of Granada in Spain.
What I really wanted was to reach a high level of language proficiency in English. I knew that the best way was moving to an English-speaking country, so I decided to spend my Erasmus year in Swansea (Wales, UK). I loved it there, so much that I stayed there for the next five years.
I joined a Welsh translation company. That is where my professional career in translation started, and where I realized how much I liked the translation industry. My time there was not only crucial for my career development, but also for my personal growth.
Five years later in 2014, I decided it was time to move back to Spain. “It is not the most convenient time!”—everyone was warning me because of the crisis going on in Spain at that time.
I’m so glad I didn’t listen because days after my return I was lucky enough to be invited to an interview at SeproTec and was offered a Vendor Manager position. Almost six years have passed since then… (OMG!) In my personal life, that was the year I met my current life partner and the father of my little child.
Coming back to Spain was definitely a good decision—or destiny.
- Did you always know you wanted to work in the industry?
It would make a good impression if I said it was always my dream to work here, but the honest answer is “no”. The truth is that I didn’t have much of an idea about what working in the translation industry involved until I got my first job in translation in the UK.
It was only then I decided on my career path, and all I know today is what I have been learning—and keep on learning—over the last nine years since I have been working in the sector.
Having said that, I think some translation/language universities lack in providing proper counseling and guidance for students regarding the translation business and the wide range of translation-related professions that they can focus their careers on (Project Coordinator, Vendor Manager, etc.), apart from just being a freelance translator. But I digress—sorry
- Can you tell us what your role involves, and how it fits into the wider language service industry?
The industry is extremely varied when it comes to those who we call our ‘resources’. Our resources are made up of linguists, DTP experts, posteditors, developers, localization engineers, subtitlers, transcreators, content writers, copywriters, and voice-over talents. These providers can be freelancers, teams, or companies of varying sizes.
I believe there is a serious lack of awareness regarding the Vendor Manager’s role.
Some people—incorrectly—think that our work is to review résumés and register resources in the database (such an easy job, and boring, by the way). However, vendor management is so much more than a language resource recruiter.
Behind every single resource (out of the six thousand resources available today in SeproTec’s database), there is a Vendor Manager who: recruited him/her, checked his/her skills and expertise, verified qualifications and certifications, ran a specialized translation test and vetting process according to a particular subject, negotiated rates and collaboration conditions, wrote tens of emails and made phone calls, thought about what projects would suit him/her best, decided on what to do if certain projects are not a good fit, constantly updated, closely monitored and kept track of his/her job evaluations and the quality of the jobs completed, renegotiated rates, ensured they felt comfortable with their workload, addressed any issues that arose and took corrective actions when needed, actively managed our database, kept records up to date, and continuously ensured that our suppliers felt happy working with us, coordinated with other departments (Production, Sales, Administration, Marketing) on benchmarking activities or helping to decide the right pricing structure for a new service, all to maximize efficiency within the company and ensure quality.
In addition, I really enjoy training new colleagues for the job, and helping them understand the importance of the outcome of our jobs within the company. I’m very proud of each and every professional who has worked in or today belongs to this department.
- What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Looking at the big picture. A Vendor Manager’s main role is to ensure that all our project managers have peace of mind because they know that, no matter the demands of the clients (urgent projects, unusual language combination, specific topics, high volumes, etc.), they have access to the most qualified and suitable vendor for that job. When it’s an obscure subject, an unusual language combination, or super tight deadlines, searching for the right supplier may feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It is a huge and yet very fulfilling challenge!
Another very challenging VM duty is to grow the active vendors database. The company needs to have a pool of vendors actively cooperating. Project Managers, on the other hand, like all humans, would assign projects to the vendors they know they can trust and who will deliver on time, so they can move on to the next project as quickly as possible. So, here we find a paradoxical situation of two business goals that are opposed to each other. If the company always uses the same vendors, the pool of vendors actively cooperating with the company doesn’t grow. When workload increases and we need to engage more vendors, those vendors not included in the preferred pool might be no longer interested in cooperation, which is a pity.
Big cooperation and coordination efforts between Production and Vendor Management is vital to overcoming such challenges and to consolidating the company’s database.
- We can see your department has an important role, similar to that of purchasing departments. Are your KPIs based merely on cost reduction?
Not at all. Although cost reduction is important, VM KPIs are focused on monitoring quality and expanding and maintaining the supplier database. There are multiple reasons:
If our KPIs were solely based on profitability, we would be giving preference to hiring cheaper vendors and meeting profitability goals over quality assurance. That’s the main one.
However, we should be aware that cheaper rates are not always linked to lower quality, and vice versa, vendors with most expensive rates are not necessary the most qualified ones.
Also, it’s important to mention the existing unfair competition in the industry. Professional freelance translators are sometimes forced to compete against inexperienced students and unskilled vendors who offer ridiculously low rates and manage to enter the market, aided by incompetent translation agencies with no commitment to quality that look for the cheapest option on the market regardless of the quality of the work, and offer the same low rates to end customers.
This situation is quite damaging to us all—professional freelancers, companies and clients alike—and sometimes makes it difficult to identify the actual market rates for a professional, high-quality translation service. But that´s what the VMs are here for!
In summary, although rates are obviously taken into consideration, our main KPIs are related to quality management. While working on improving quality, we reduce costs at the same time by following the right approach when it comes to using the right tools and CAT tool technology, and by reducing risks of potential issues and the associated costs and penalties.
- Is it always a matter of trust, or do you evaluate the translators on a regular basis?
Trust must always be earned. We have rigorous quality control procedures that are well defined and thoroughly implemented.
All our linguists go through a pre-selection and vetting process before they can start collaborating with us. Once pre-selected, potential collaborators go through a probationary period. It is time for them to prove that they are competent and reliable, to win the trust of the Project Managers, and vice versa, by delivering high-quality work and—what is even more important and difficult—consistently maintaining such quality over time. If they pass the trial period with satisfactory results, they receive “Active status” in our database. Their performance and quality are still evaluated and tracked on a regular basis in coordination with our Production and Quality departments.
Our vendors also need to be trained to become familiar with the specific demands and style requirements of our clients. Feedback is therefore quite important, both positive and negative criticism must be conveyed so they can learn. This is a way of learning how a true professional translator reacts as well.
But “translation is not a science but an exact art” (Steiner, 1975) [love it ]
As a result, there are frequent disagreements over translation strategies due to differences in style or subjective preferences, where our PMs have the difficult role of serving as mediators so that the most effective solution can be sought.
Also, sometimes, our quality standards are not met. As all humans do, bad choices are made and quality issues may arise.
Each case is thoroughly analyzed and assessed by the PM and—when it is required—it is escalated to the VM team, who applies the most appropriate corrective action depending on the severity of the issue, and ensures that it will never happen again.
Quality is always a must. We and our providers should always remember that the final goal is to keep our customers happy by delivering excellent quality on time.
- You mentioned the famous human factor; how do you find the best service providers?
As I see it, it’s very simple: a translation company cannot exist without linguistic providers. They are the epicenter of the whole process, and they are our allies in the company’s successful predominance in the translation industry.
However, beyond résumés, credentials and competitive rates, we look for candidates who are honest and authentic.
In addition to technical knowledge, qualifications and translation skills that are constantly evaluated, as explained in the last question, we also very much value the professionalism, responsiveness, communication skills and reliability of our collaborators. We like to work with professionals who are easy to communicate and work with, who pay attention to details, who strictly meet our delivery deadlines and follow our instructions correctly, who are cooperative, motivated to work with us and passionate about what they do.
An important part of a Vendor Manager´s role is to keep such motivation going and make sure our vendors feel happy and comfortable working with us by maintaining strong and positive relationships.
In addition, we deal with vendors from all over the world, and we need to learn that different cultures require different styles of relationship management (localized relationships )
In this sense, Vendor Managers act as an extension of the Human Resources department, as HR experts charged with making connections and building positive relationships with the part of the business that matters most: the people.
- Searching for new resources: when do you come into the picture?
We are continuously expanding the network of translation professionals.
When we receive an order for, let’s say, an unusual language combination, and the resources in our database are limited, then PM might ask us to launch an external search and find suitable linguists— meeting the specific requirements for that particular project. These are what we call “active” searches, which cover our ongoing daily needs.
The VM also works on “potential” searches, which are just as important as the active ones and are based on the company’s future needs and work forecasts.
The company’s needs, customers and customer demands are continuously changing, and a Vendor Manager needs to be familiar with the dynamic character of the translation industry.
We work alongside the Production and Sales teams to identify the company’s future needs for new vendors, i.e. new language combinations, new subject areas, text typologies, new linguistic services, and then ask ourselves: 1) do we have enough linguistic resources in our database to cover these specific needs? 2) at what cost?
Our searches should be proactive and constant, so that we are always ready to respond to any request that comes out of the blue with the most competitive resources.
- We all agree that language resources are the driving force behind every translation company’s success. It’s what we always say when we announce a winner of the “Translator of the Month” event at SeproTec. By the way, it was your department’s idea to implement that plan! That was a great idea!
For me, taking the corresponding corrective actions when quality is not as expected is as important as those taken when quality is outstanding.
Again, here is where the importance of supplier relationship management comes up.
I have developed a deep respect and admiration for translators, and I think we should show our suppliers that we value their work and professionalism and thank them for their dedication to us over the years.
That is the goal behind the “Translator of the Month” event, which at the same time, is a responsibility shared with other departments—such as Administration—by ensuring prompt payments, or PM teams through the friendly and professional communication that they maintain with our resources.
The good news is that we seem to be succeeding in this task, in view of the positive feedback that our collaborators have published in certain popular translation portals, which I find very rewarding.
- What do you like most about working at SeproTec?
No doubt it’s the friendly working environment and the excellent group of very professional people working here.
- And… imagine a day without work, the internet, phone calls… What would you do for this one day?
I can imagine it outside of Madrid, right? So, I would be on some unknown beach on the southern coast. I’d start my day by going for a run early in the morning, joining my family for breakfast, and spending all morning long playing with my child, swimming, and building sandcastles for him to destroy later. For lunch, I’d have shrimp paella, and a couple of ice-cold beers with my boyfriend, followed by the obligatory “siesta”, of course. In the evening I’d go to the movie theater to see the new “The Lion King” movie—I can’t wait to watch it!. Then we’d watch the sun set somewhere nice by the beach with a huge lemon ice-cream. All with no work, no internet, and no phone. Perfect!
You can tell I need a vacation!
We would certainly sign up for your perfect day! Thank you so much for your time, Estrella. It’s been a pleasure to get to know you better and thank you for doing such a consistently great job!