Coffee Break: Ralph Michael Strozza, CEO of Interpro Translation Solutions in Lisle
Q: Describe your company.
A: Interpro provides foreign language translation and event interpretation services that allow our clients to connect with their multilingual target audiences across the globe. We are a privately held organization, with on-site ownership actively involved in every aspect of the Company's operations. Our Worldwide Partner Network makes us extremely scalable, allowing us to take on projects as varied as the translation of an installation and operations manual containing tens of thousands of words into multiple languages simultaneously, to translating a few sentences contained within an urgent email into one or two languages. Our focus is on client service, quality, and transparency, and our approach to our business relationships is long term.
Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?
A: As with most small companies, the primary challenge for us every year is selling and delivering on what we promise our clients. Our reputation and brand are something that we carefully protect, and overselling/overpromising is not in our DNA. Additionally, we need to ensure that the services we are offering correspond to the needs of our clients in today's globalized economy. The primary challenges for us will be to expand our services to meet the growing multilingual needs of our clients and prospects, and to ensure that we have the appropriate level of staff to deliver successfully.
Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?
A: Neural Machine Translation (NMT) is rapidly making traditional Statistical Machine Translation (SMT) obsolete, just as Statistical MT made Rules-Based MT obsolete in the 90s. Rather than relying on a gargantuan corpus of source text and their target-language equivalents, NMT builds and trains a single neural network models that reads a sentence in one language and attempts to correctly output it in another. While NMT has made light year strides in the field since computers were first used to translate one language to another, the ambiguity and complexity of human language makes automatic language translation one of the most difficult challenges in artificial intelligence.
Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie CEO, what would it be?
A: Keep a good handle on all critical aspects of your business:
Your clients (be sure you get to know them and they you);
Your employees (understanding what makes them tick will pay huge dividends for you)
Build in redundancy for key functional areas
Delegate, but verify.
Q: Do you have a business mantra?
A: Since our job involves reading and understanding every word in the materials our clients send us for translation, our teams looks closer at the content than anyone except perhaps the content authors. So, rather than being in the translation business, I emphasize to everyone working at Interpro that we are in the details business.
Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?
A: I personally look up to and give credit to my parents. They raised my brother and me to be honest, to work hard, to treat people the way we wanted to be treated, and to "live within our means" as my father used to say. Debt was a dirty word in my family, and my parents would always drill into us that the only things you went into debt for were 1) a house and 2) a car. These are the values that I run my company with, and have served me well throughout my career.
Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
A: We are planning on doing both, actually. With the increase in the number -- and the complexity -- of projects, we need to find some assistance for our project managers so that they can continue to be on top of the multiple projects that each one manages on a daily basis. We will also be looking to add people to our Marketing and Sales team. Finally, we are looking at what our next major service offering will be to complement our existing services in order to best serve our client base.
Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?
A: Because we are technically oriented and use sophisticated tools to get the jobs done, many people see Interpro as a developer of translation software, rather than a provider of translation services.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: Thanks to my Italian upbringing, I am a very family-oriented animal and spend most of my free time with family and close friends. This usually involves a lot of cooking and eating, and in addition to that, I love fishing and kayaking in Wisconsin's North Woods. I also look forward to a daily 2-mile walk with Payton -- my beautiful Yellow Labrador retriever -- named in honor of the great Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton.
Q: What book is on your nightstand?
A: Sérotinine by the French novelist Michel Houellebecq.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: I get bothered by something I finally remember (at 2 a.m.) I should have done at the office and didn't do. It was a call I forgot to return, or an email I forgot to send, and once I remember it, I have a hard time getting back to sleep. It's usually a work-related issue that affects my sleep, but sometimes it's just as simple as knowing I have to get up early to catch a flight and being anxious about not getting up in time.
Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?
A: Given my love for languages and business, I would most likely be managing the internal translation department for a large multinational organization. If not that, I would very much enjoy teaching French or Italian at the high school or college level.
Q: What was your first paying job?
A: The first job I actually got paid for was cutting grass. My brother and I borrowed money for a new lawn mower from our mother, and went around our neighborhood in Forest Park offering our services. When lawn-cutting season was over we moved on to raking leaves and then to shoveling snow. The first job I got working for an actual company was as a stock boy at Osco. I held this job throughout high school until I went off to college.
Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?
A: It would be either Wrigley Field or Soldier Field, but I'd probably go with Wrigley since the Cubs have more home games than the Bears.
Q: What is one funny thing that has happened to you in your career?
A: On my first trip to Japan, I was invited out to dinner by colleagues from our Tokyo office. With the dish I order was a beautifully sculptured, delicious-looking green vegetable. I picked it up with my chopsticks, and stuffed the whole thing in my mouth. As I was doing this, I caught the horror on the faces of my colleagues, and knew it was too late. That "vegetable" turned out to be a thick hunk of wasabi, and as I swallowed it, I immediately knew I was in trouble! My ears started ringing, my sinuses opened up, my mouth stung, and I began to sneeze uncontrollably. I needed quite a few minutes -- and sips of beer and sake -- to recuperate. The next day, I was the toast of the office with everyone congratulating me as if I had just bench lifted 600 pounds.
Interpro Translation Solutions, Inc. 4200 Commerce Court, Suite 204, Lisle, IL 60532www.interproinc.com
Industry: foreign language translation and interpretation Number of employees: 13 Age: 61 Family information: Married, 2 children, 1 granddaughter
Hometown: Born in Chicago, residing in Lisle since 1990