Alex Parr, Managing Director, Wolfestone, gives Business News Wales’ readers her advice on innovation in the Welsh business market and her thoughts on the links between higher education and business.
Can you give our readers a little background into yourself and your role within Wolfestone?
Prior to joining Wolfestone in 2013, I worked for 10 years in the financial services industry, where I managed fast-growing sales teams who regularly appeared in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100. As Managing Director of Wolfestone, my focus is on changes and technical developments in the translation industry. I make sure we understand our client’s needs – today and in the future. I ensure that we offer a first-class customer service. Clients aren’t always aware of the technical developments and service levels available within the language industry, and how a partnership with us helps clients to improve their own service offerings. It’s my job to make sure that my team is up to date with all changes in the translation industry and that they’re able to pass on this knowledge to our clients.
What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?
Wolfestone are a technology-focused, progressive translation company. Over the last five years, we have seen incredible developments in translation technology, leading to improved quality and speed whilst reducing costs. Many businesses, though, simply don’t have the time or resources to implement these advances into their workflows. Over the next five years, we will be looking at matching new technology with the needs of our clients, and continuing to grow and evolve as we have been for the past 11 years. We are especially interested in the improvement of bespoke machine translation engines, which are significantly driving down the cost of translation. Recent improvements in video interpreting also present an exciting opportunity for us, breaking down the language barriers of customer-facing industries.
Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently?
I’m not really a big believer in regrets. There have been decisions that I’ve made which, with hindsight, I wouldn’t do again, but I have always learned more from my mistakes than I have from my successes. The one pearl of wisdom I would pass on is to never be afraid of making mistakes and never doubt your capabilities, as no one else is going to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.
What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?
Being ambitious and not putting glass ceilings in the way of growth; Taking risks and being courageous; Being committed and prepared to work hard;
What are your top three tips for success?
First, do your homework – know your industry and the type of clients you want to attract. These clients aren’t always the ones you’ll have! Also, don’t be afraid to say no. During their early days, Wolfestone said yes to every client. It didn’t matter whether their needs matched our core services, or if they were extremely high maintenance or late payers. As a young business, especially, you strive for any new client you can get, but this is usually a false economy and the amount of work and stress servicing these clients isn’t worth the money you will have made.
My second tip for success is to continue learning and developing. The business landscape can change quickly and you need to have the right knowledge to know where to steer the business.
And last but not least, invest in people. Recruit for temperament not skills and provide opportunities to your team for training and upskilling.
Are there any innovations within your sector that you believe should be adopted by the wider Welsh market?
Welsh companies should not be afraid to look at global markets. It has never been easier to sell your services or products abroad, and this can be adapted to suit almost all budgets. Web connectors, which allow for information to be translated directly on your website, have sped up the localisation process significantly and have drastically cut both the time and effort previously required by IT departments.
Most companies can use Google Analytics to see if they are receiving traffic outside of the UK, and this is a good opportunity when deciding where to start selling your products/services abroad.
Recent advances in interpreting software have allowed for instant communication, no matter the language. Also, ever-improving machine translation technology is driving down the cost of translation whilst making the whole process much quicker. By adopting these new innovations, businesses can access new markets and increase sales in a fairly short timeframe.
Do you foresee any issues that Welsh business will be facing in the short/medium/long term?
The proposed increase in business rates is affecting many SMEs. As upfront costs increase, cash flow will become harder to manage and there will be less to reinvest in the company at the end of the year.
Do you have any predictions in regards to the impact of Brexit on your sector?
We employ several staff from European nations, mainly for their multilingual skills, and with current uncertainty surrounding whether EU nationals based in the UK will be given automatic residency status, Brexit has the potential to significantly impact the UK translation industry in the short term. Wales, for the moment, is not experiencing the same wealth of linguistic talent as our European neighbours, but I can see from the level of investment being applied to Welsh universities that this trend should soon start to reverse.
The uncertainty of Brexit is the biggest hurdle businesses in Wales are facing to date. Companies are putting their exporting plans on hold until there’s a better understanding of how the new relationship with the EU will work in practice. Prime Minister Theresa May has previously spoken to new trade deals forming with countries outside of Europe, and that potentially opens up new markets for Welsh products and services, which would be of huge benefit to the translation sector.
What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?
Wales’ strength is attributed to the excellent support offered by the Welsh Government for starts ups and SME’s. Networking is also a pleasure to do in Wales and is very reciprocal.
Wales’ weaknesses are recruitment and retention. Welsh businesses have difficulty holding on to their most talented staff members, as many people are enticed by the better paid positions and prospects on offer in other major cities in the UK.
What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?
Inward investment for Wales has improved over the past few years, with universities expanding and improving the quality of our younger workforce. Corporate investment from Aston Martin and the recent decision for Swansea Bay to become the first tidal lagoon in the world is also a step in the right direction. However, I still believe too much is centralised around the Cardiff area whilst the wider Welsh community is left in the cold. A better allocation of investment throughout Wales would see greater growth for Wales as a whole.
What skills should the education system be promoting to the next generation?
Technology and IT skills are very limited within Wales, and as new tech startups flourish, the demand for these skills is growing. I’d also like to see more qualifications with three-month compulsory internships, as it better prepares students for the workplace and increases the employment rate for graduates and retention levels for employers.
How important is it for there to be a close relationship between business and higher education in Wales?
A close relationship between business and higher education can be incredibly beneficial. For instance, over the last decade, Wolfestone has developed a strong working relationship with Swansea University and the University of Wales Trinity St David. As a result, we have been able to offer advice based on our experiences as a business that has helped tailor some linguistic courses, ensuring graduates have the right skills to enter the language sector.
We have championed the need for more technical modules, and Trinity St David’s investment in their multimedia suite has improved the technical skills of their graduates. Previously, it would have been necessary for us to recruit outside of Wales for some of our more technical roles, as the skills just were not there. Now, with more technically skilled graduates, we are able to keep recruitment for these roles local.