Being a Manufacturing Translation Manager

Mitya Rahtz_10-04-2015In this post, Mitya Rahtz shares some insights about the role of a busy manufacturing industry translation manager. Working for Legrand at its global head office in Limoges, France, Mitya is responsible for the management and coordination of translation projects. Legrand is a leading multinational manufacturer with close to 36,000 employees worldwide, marketing a total of 200,000 products in 78 categories.

My guess is that few jobs are probably as straightforward as they may superficially seem, but I do know for sure that the job of an in-house Translation Manager is very much a multifaceted assignment.

Going by my own, statistically insignificant experience, the layman’s perception focuses mainly on product data sheets and catalogs. This is what people usually mention whenever I introduce myself to someone from another walk of life; it represents the visible part of the iceberg. Occasionally, the focus will shift to websites; however, that’s mainly when LSPs phone me to offer their services in satisfying a supposed need for localization in countless countries!

In any case, few people realize either just how many different types of translation requirement actually need to be satisfied in the everyday life of a manufacturing company, or how many different hats you get to wear in attempting to do so.

Looking at the diversity of material, first of all, technical documents are obviously part of the picture, but there’s so much more. The requirements range from an expatriate’s tailor-made employment contract to the installation manual for a dual-technology lighting management system; an advertising brochure for a range of high-end decorative finishes aimed specifically at architects and design consultants to a data sheet drafted in doubtful English by non-natives, which first needs clarifying to enable its contents to be translated into various other languages. Include a legal opinion on a touchy international patent dispute or the maintenance handbook of an air filtering system, not to mention company annual reports and financial statements, press releases, video subtitles that need to be kept as short as at all possible, and so much more. The challenges are many, some apparent, others concealed, which need to be identified and overcome, usually ‘ASAP’ or, as the French say, ‘no later than yesterday’!

Ensuring this works obviously requires the help of first-class translation providers, which is why you’re reading this article! It also requires intervening in a variety of capacities.

Being tasked with coordinating the response to your company’s translation needs means you are de facto acting as a buyer, constantly mindful of the need to optimize spending and contractual framework condition, and performing ongoing supplier assessment.

At the same time, for your purchasing department you are the main spokesperson for translation users in your organization, for whom priority is service quality, in all aspects of the term: getting just what they need, on their specific terms, on time, and reliably so.

Sometimes, you may need to explain to these colleagues how translation actually works, what goes into those delivery times and prices they may see as excessive, what can or cannot be reasonably expected. You are a guarantor of market standard and professional practice. In this respect, having actual experience as a translator is, of course, invaluable.

As the client-supplier interface, you get to channel sometimes complex information for explanatory purposes, adding or removing details in order to make messages intelligible, sometimes by decoding in-house acronyms, project names and other specific jargon to defuse so many potential mistranslations. Far from being a passive messenger, you need to be able to deploy your knowledge of both the corporate context and translation techniques in order to interpret and transmit what people on either side are saying, to make sure no material details get lost in the cross-talk. This is where functional attachment to a corporate communications department makes sense, since you are very much a mediator.

And at the bottom line, you get to be a sort of front-line spending controller, reminding your in-house clients that translations cost money, cross-checking to validate and sometimes redefine their needs, ensuring each request is funded, and handling a lot of spreadsheets every month in the process of producing ever more detailed reports to your colleagues in Finance!

In short, you are at once a buyer, user, proofreader, scheduler, broker, controller and referee, to name but those roles. In fact, one of the few things I seldom get to see at close quarters is boredom! It’s a constantly stimulating and occasionally thrilling job, which largely precludes any routine.

Meeting interpreting needs is another side of the job, and here it is even more true to say there is virtually no such thing as a “typical” request, as you almost invariably have to tailor the solution according to the customer’s requirement and budget, the locations and logistics involved, the equipment required and/or available… But that’s another story!

Mitya Rahtz

Translation Manager, Group Internal Communication & External Relations Dept. at Legrand

About Legrand: Legrand is the global specialist in electrical and digital building infrastructures. Its comprehensive offering of solutions for use in commercial, industrial and residential markets makes it a benchmark for customers worldwide. Innovation for a steady flow of new products with high added value and acquisitions are prime vectors for growth.