The World’s Largest Translation and Global Content Management Company


Lionbridge is celebrating its 20th year in business and is based in Boston, MA. They combine their undoubted technologies and skills in different ways, to respond to the needs of various industries. We spoke to Lionbridge’s CEO who reveals more about the largest translation and global content management company in the world, as well as their thoughts on winning the prestigious CEO of the Year 2016 – UK award.

Can you outline what your company does and your role as CEO in heading it up?
For technology companies, Lionbridge ensures that products look and feel ‘local.’ For law firms, we translate global contracts and compliance documents. For auto companies, we manage the publishing of glove box materials as well as world-wide service bulletins. Regarding my role, I’m a pretty typical CEO. I balance the interests of thousands of global and local customers, our 6,000 employees in 35 countries, and our institutional and private investors.

Can you elaborate on the areas your company specialises in?
We concentrate on the intersection of globalisation and digitisation. Our founding markets were localisation and testing of software and the translation of the product content associated with those technologies. As all business processes globalise and digitise, we are applying that knowledge to all sorts of industries and applications. For example, we have added capabilities around digital marketing services to help our customers meet the new requirements of managing a consistent global customer experience. Today our capabilities span the entire multi-channel needs of our customers, from software and tech pubs, to marketing and customer-care channels.

What kind of clients does your firm serve and how do you approach them?
Lionbridge operates in 35 countries and work with clients across a variety of different sectors, as localising content and products is an issue that affects almost every business working on a global scale. Our clients are diverse, we serve large corporations, such as Microsoft, Rolls Royce and Google, as well as small to medium size businesses. Our customers span across all verticals from the tech sector to regulated industries such as financial services and life sciences. We approach our clients as partners having to work as an extension of our clients’ businesses. So, when we approach clients, we make sure we do so as peers and co–workers rather than just as a vendor.

How does it feel to have been awarded CEO of the Year 2016 – UK?
I feel incredibly privileged to have been recognised with the CEO of the year award. While it is an honour to receive the award, it truly is a reflection of the wider company and of how well we operate as a team. A CEO is only as successful as their team and Lionbridge has some of the sharpest minds in the business.

Can you tell us how the business is going and the challenges you face at the helm of it?
This year proved to be very successful for us, as we continue strengthen our products and services offerings, whilst re-organising into strategic business units. This initiative has located decision-making close to the customer and is resulting in customised solutions.

Another achievement for Lionbridge this year has been the ability to live in the present, and the future. We continue to optimise for existing business models, while cloud-based technology innovations are enabling a new generation of applications and business models. These two approaches are reinforcing each other. Our vibrant and flexible culture truly helps us with maintaining the right balance between the two.

Can you tell us about your career background prior to attaining your current position?
I have always been interested in publishing and computing. My first job was at a company called Compugraphic, the world leader in computerising the pre-press and publishing processes. I lived in London, and focused mainly on building the European and Asian distribution chains. This is where I learnt about the intersection of globalisation and digitisation. Time flew, and I earned a Masters from Harvard Business School. I did a leveraged buy-out of my family’s printing company in 1980. This was during the advent of the personal computer industry.

I concluded that a lot of printing would be required for the computer industry. I changed the company’s focus and won packaging and diskette copying contracts for Lotus, AT&T and IBM. The company was later bought out by RR Donnelley.

How did you attain your current position?
While at RR Donnelley, I oversaw a division that contained a translation business—something I was initially thinking of shutting down. But once I looked again at that part of the business, I decided that there might be a viable opportunity for a separate business that was not appropriate at the time inside a billion-dollar company. I raised buyout funds from Morgan Stanley and Advent and hired the 20 people who otherwise would have lost their jobs in the downsizing – and Lionbridge was born. It felt natural to step into the role of CEO, and lead this new and exciting business venture.

Do you have any plans for the future, you would like to share with our readers?
The Cloud is changing everything we do. I call it the ‘consumerisation of IT.’ This consumer innovation is transforming nearly all business processes, both in business model and in computing architecture. One of our main focuses for 2017 is the optimisation of both sides of the markets we simultaneously serve; customers who are increasingly seeing globalisation become a standard requirement across all business processes, and the crowd of translators required to deliver on the localisation of products and content. Each requires a unique set of solutions from Lionbridge. I envision the translation industry becoming another MSP (Multi-sided Platform).

What challenges lie ahead in 2017 for you as the CEO and for your company in 2017 and beyond?
I consider myself to be ‘end of the nose/over the horizon’ type of a CEO. This means that on the one hand I am getting very closely involved in making daily difficult tactical decisions, especially when our business experiences resource and budget constraints. On the other hand, I am responsible for defining long-term direction of the company, so we remain competitive in a changing global environment.

As a CEO, my challenge is to keep the right balance between executing on our short-term strategy, remain fully nimble, drive a cost-competitive business and ensure Lionbridge thrives in a digital and global world. That requires the ability to balance technology and skills; to balance the long term and the short term; to deliver both personalised and automated services.

Can you tell us about any specific industry based challenges on the horizon?
As is always the case in the technology industry, things can change quickly – and we constantly have to react to change. When we first started out, the translation industry was highly fragmented, with so many technological advancements happening within the translation space.

Nowadays, biggest changes for us are driven by evolving technology landscape that reduces demand for translation services in our core markets, yet increases it in other markets where we have not been present. For example, digitisation increases demand for our services within the marketing space and now it brings about 15% of our revenue in comparison to 4-5 years ago, when we had single digit percentages. Staying ahead of the trends and being prepared has driven an agility in our company of which I am very proud.

Do you have any further remarks to make?
I am honoured to have won this award, and look forward to continuing to lead some of the brightest minds in this ever-evolving industry.

Company:  Lionbridge Technologies
Name: Rory J. Cowan
Address: 1050 Winter Street
Suite 2300
Waltham, MA 02451
Phone: 1 781-790-4099