Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Empire Writes Back: A Response to Lionbridge’s “Alan Walsh”

Today, my blog received a comment to the post in which I replied to Didier Hélin’s ukase to freelance translators about reducing their rates. It is written by someone who claims to be called “Alan Walsh.” He submitted a reasoned rebuttal of the shellacking Lionbridge has received over the blogosphere during the past week. Crucially, it is the only full-throated defense of Lionbridge, which has been universally decried as a subpar corporate citizen. I released “Alan Walsh’s” contribution immediately in the spirit of fairness, even though the email is clearly a fake address created for the sole purpose of enlightening me (rk45214@yahoo.com). (Although it could be a real name; perhaps “rk45214″ is how they spell “Walsh” in ye olde country, which is presumably Mars.) However, when I looked up the sender’s IP address out of curiosity: Lo and behold! I copy the results for your viewing pleasure:
(Look it up yourselves if you so desire: http://www.melissadata.com/lookups/iplocation.asp or at http://whois.domaintools.com/)
IP Address Location
IP Address
City Framingham
State or Region Massachusetts
Country United States
ISP Lionbridge Technologies.
Really, Lionbridge? Are you seriously that stupid? Lionbridge Technologies didn’t even take the trouble to disguise its IP address. (Dude, are you aware that the Whole Foods guy lost his job because of shenanigans like this and that it prompted an SEC investigation?)
I now proceed to copy the entire message:
I thought that the initial post was entertaining, but I don’t understand the need to stigmatize a translation company that keeps several thousand translators busy full time. Although the tone of the request could have been improved, there is nothing wrong with asking providers to make an effort during difficult times:
=> the announcement preceded the company’s Q3 results, which were quite poor. Why refer to the Q2 results, irrelevant at this time?
=> although the company receives revenue in USD and EUR, it outsources mostly in EUR, so the weakening dollar will have a huge impact on its bottom line during Q4
=> large software companies are asking for 10% discounts to all its providers. There is nothing wrong with asking translators that receive work on a regular basis if not full time to temporarily make an effort (this is only a 2 month initiative!). Companies across many other industries are doing the same thing. Lionbridge invests huge amounts to secure business that keeps thousands of translators working.

Granted, the tone of the email could have been improved, but translators can simply choose not to accept the discount…
(Signed: Alan Walsh)
And herewith my reply:
Dear faceless corporate stooge:
May I call you “Alan Walsh”? I’m on a first-name-last-name basis with your colleague Didier Hélin and I think that is how you address each other over at Lionbridge. First of all, thank you for reading my doofy little blog, “Alan Walsh.” I know that it has been very popular in your company, judging from the hundreds of hits from your servers worldwide and the depressing reports about what it is like to work for you.
Permit me also to commend you on your courage, “Alan Walsh.” Anonymity in a person who has nothing to lose by defending his own company certainly highlights the pride you take in working at Lionbridge.
To begin, you ask why there is “the need to stigmatize a translation company that keeps several thousand translators busy full time”?
The stigmatization is partly due to your style, the style in which you both manage your collaborators and the style in which you communicate with them. This style is indicative of a certain way of viewing the entire profession of translation and the industry at large. The communications from your company, of which your anonymous literary exertions are just another shining example, are all of a piece, “Alan Walsh.” They are both impersonal and gauche (you have conceded that somewhat grudgingly). Taken to an extreme, they evince an almost Keystonian degree of incompetence for a company to which major corporations outsource their communications in other languages. When viewed with a more critical eye, however, a far more disturbing issue than simple imbecility rears its ugly head: dishonesty and cynicism.
Let me recap the salient facts of the Didier Hélin Sandwich. It is an astoundingly long series of dick moves which you have just compounded:
1.- A distressing message was sent from a dummy email entitled “IMPORTANT – DO NOT RESPOND.” (Dick move number One.)
2.- It was sent on a Friday afternoon in the Western hemisphere to ensure the longest amount of lag time between its sending and Monday morning, when your Asian collaborators would wake up to find that they had been slimed. (Dick move number Two.)
3.- It was sent during the ATA conference, when a lot of spokespeople would be distracted. (Dick move number Three.)
4.- It clumsily adduced two or three random economic data points that Didier Hélin or his assistant lazily fished out of The Economist to justify a completely arbitrary redefinition of the terms of the labor relationship between you and your contributors. The entire message denotes sloppiness (borne of, again, contempt) in a message that probably made a lot of people feel really bad. (Dick move number Four.)
5.-. A demand of a discount was phrased as a fait accompli. So, yes, it was an offer, as you claim, “Alan Walsh.” An offer like Michael Corleone used to make right before you got the bullet in the eye during a Swedish massage. (Dick move number Five.)
6.- You sent that obscenity to everybody, “Alan Walsh.” Your entire database, which is a massive dark hole encompassing happy freelancers, zombies, mythical creatures, half-real half-imaginary “Alan Walshes” and unsympathetic former providers. You did not even invest the modicum of care necessary to limit the unpleasantness to only the poor souls who actually have to put [up] with you. Not only do you make your own people feel miserable, you were generous enough to share the misery with many other thousands of colleagues, thus instantly becoming the poster child for an industry-wide problem. (Dick move number Six.)
7.- You sent it in 2010. (Dick move number Seven.) While your senior management is spewing hot air about the Web 2.0 and collaboration infrastructure, you’re still handling your corporate communications with the ineffable tact of a nineteenth-century robber baron. You basically got up on a soapbox on Friday while the steelworkers were clocking out and shouted through an old timey blowhorn: “From now on we pay you 5% less! Suck it! See you all on Monday. That is all.” Except now a few dozen of the hapless victims in your database have blogs and several thousand have Facebook accounts. So, this is basically the brave new world of social networking telling you to suck it, “Alan Walsh.”
Now, to reply to your specific objections:
1.- You complain that “this is only a 2 month initiative!”. But the quotes from your CEO clearly state that this is only the beginning. Moreover, how can anyone trust you to make it only a temporary move? The Valentine from Didier Hélin certainly didn’t promise it was temporary. You have no credibility left, “Alan Walsh.”
2.- You allege “that translators can simply choose not to accept the discount.” Call me crazy, but the Didier Hélin candygram was less accommodating. Textually: “we require all our partners to provide a 5% discount on all Lionbridge projects.” To me, that doesn’t sound like an invitation to a square dance. Was Czechoslovakia free to refuse Hitler’s Sudetenland ultimatum? And yes, the freelancers can choose to not accept and cease working from Friday to Monday. But many will inevitably be too scared or at the very least unprepared to object. So it falls upon people who are not dependent upon Lionbridge for its tardy payments to express their feelings openly.
3.- You roll out the tired nostrum about the declining dollar: “Although the company receives revenue in USD and EUR, it outsources mostly in EUR, so the weakening dollar will have a huge impact on its bottom line during Q4.” Once and for all, I would like to ask a few questions: Haven’t you idiots heard of something called currency hedging, “Alan Walsh”? You’re basically saying, “we are completely and utterly unprepared for anything but a rising dollar.” Heard of a thing called strategic planning? OK, OK. You’re not the sharpest crayon in the box (believe me, we’ve established that beyond the shadow of a doubt), but, come on, why should the translators pay for your incompetence?
This leads me to another, nay, THE question: if the dollar rallies versus the euro next year when Greece or Ireland explode like H-Bombs, will you share the proceeds with the translators? “Uh, no way in hell! Papa needs his forex gains!” So, basically, your translators have to share the losses due to your mismanagement but not the windfall profits from random world events.
4.- Which brings me to your final whine: Large software companies are asking for 10% discounts to all its providers. That is the final and ultimate dishonesty. Number one, you are not a software company. You are a monstrously bloated translation agency with a sales department and a handful of software engineers. Rolling out a second-rate CAT tool from the cloud does not make you one. Just as a kid who puts firecrackers on a dog’s tail is not an engineer. I know you want to fool investors into believing that, but you’re not. And a translator is not a vendor. He or she is a freelance provider of services. What you really mean is that your gynormous clients are squeezing you to give them a discount. And you’ve already cut expenses down to the bone, so the only place to keep cutting is the massive expenditure on freelancers. The response from your freelancers should be: And how is that my problem, “Alan Walsh”? Has Didier Hélin taken any pay cuts since this economic thunderstorm began? For that matter, have you, “Alan Walsh”? Of course not.
Reports indicate that you have relentlessly driven down rates since the global meltdown began. The latest slap in the face is only one more chapter in this saga. There is no end in sight to the “new normal.” You think that this is a bottomless well. You want to keep pushing down on that baby. Well, if you’re surprised at the backlash, might I suggest that this is reality telling you that you can’t push down on that lever any further, “Alan Walsh”? That the pebble thrown in the well finally hit rock bottom? In other words, the dreaded time has come when you may actually have to employ people who are not computer literate. Or, alternatively, you may actually have to become more efficient. Or do crazy stuff like adopting better project management practices. Or stop going for the lowest bidder all the time. Or start nurturing your freelance staff and agency partners rather than viewing them as potential cash cows. You know, insane, wacko, out-of-the-box stuff like that.
Which finally brings me to you, “Alan Walsh,” or, to call you by your real name, Dick Move Number Eight. Your anonymous message, your fake email, your lame pseudonym, your brain-dead arguments. Leaving aside the dishonesty of a large corporation using free email accounts to leave positive feedback on itself, there is a more important issue at stake. The common denominator to Didier Hélin’s October surprise, your CEO’s disingenuous replies to analysts and your clumsy comment on my blog is the same: ice cold contempt. You have such a low opinion of other human beings that you didn’t even bother to, at the very least, send this asinine attempt at damage control from your home PC. Because you think someone else wouldn’t know enough to monitor the visitors to his own website. Because you think I don’t know that a “trademark protection” company has been downloading anything and everything from my website and blog. Or that your law firm is sniffing around. (And if you think I’m the least bit intimidated, dude, you are sooooo wrong.) The problem is you think you’re smarter than the rest of humanity. But, believe me, “Alan Walsh,” you’re patently not.
When you’re finally ready to act like a man and use your own name to defend your company, you will be completely welcome to post your ramblings free of censorship.
So, anyway, thank you for your comment. Feel free to drop by at any time (not that I can actually stop you). Wardrobe suggestion: Next time, come as Batgirl or Catwoman. Since you’re into disguises…

Yours truly,
Miguel Llorens

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.


Christopher Fitzsimons said...

EXCELLENT post Miguel. You have expressed everything that so many of us in this industry are thinking. And managed to do so in both a witty and momentous manner! Bravo! I am completely behind you.

Karl Hansen said...

As I wrote on the old blog before it was moved here, I don't think "Alan Walsh" is a top-level executive at Lionbridge. Rather a lower-level worker out to do his employer a good turn by defending them. The top echelons at Liox ought to know that IP addresses are traceable and that defending themselves under a false flag would be like shooting themselves in the foot.

(OK, Lionbridge have made some less-than-brilliant moves lately, like sending out a demand for discounts from a DO-NOT-REPLY address, so I could be wrong...)

Also, this is not Lionbridge's normal style. I would have expected them to announce the bad news, avoid public debate, and then deal with their freelancers piecemeal. This is how they did when they announced Translation Workspace: They sent out a mass email telling us in excited corporatespeak that from now on we would be doing business with them in a whole new manner, sat back and ignored while translators blew off steam on discussion boards and blogs, and then called or wrote to freelancers who hadn't signed up to deal with them one by one. (I think a lot of translators caved in at this point.)

Financial Translator said...

Hi and thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Hi Karl. Sorry I didn't reply to your previous message. To be honest, the "Alan Walsh" message reeks of upper management. Regardless of that, though, American legislation is very strict about how officials of a public company can interact with members of the public about that company's financial results. Talking up your company through a pseudonym on a public forum is a definite no-no. This, in my view, is indicative of a company that feels it can do anything. Regarding the mass e-mail, I feel it is characteristic of the sloppiness that companies of this size have adopted in their communications with freelancers. The attitude is: "there is an economic crisis, we can afford to be careless since they're desperate for work anyway." This, in part, is what led me to write back to Didier Hélin in the first place.

ScottishWildcat said...

Corporate communication at its worst, it seems? I just really wonder what comes next...

Stan said...

Good catch, Miguel! Our "Alan" must be a grade-A idiot. I couldn't stop laughing all morning! :D

Mikhail said...

Excellent post, Miguel.

When you said "who actually have to put with you" did you mean "put UP with you"? (If I'm right, you're welcome to just delete my comment - I'm not commenting to nitpick, really.)

Leah said...

I tried collaborating with LB once a while ago. They put us through 2-step exam before actually revealing their dirt-low rates. It was so manipulative, I've never went near them since then.

Krzysztof Kajetanowicz said...

"Labor relationship"?

Come on! Are you kidding me? Acting like an employee doesn't make others employees.

Stop whining. The response was polite, this is anything but. Liox are insane. So what? Let them be. Get a job.

Uldis Liepkalns said...

In Latvian we have the expression "to shit on one's own legs". This is exactly what Lionbridge has done and they couldn't have done it better even if they had had tried.

Jill said...

Miguel, you are my new hero. Keep up the good fight! If Lionbridge does decide to sue you (which would be an EXTREMELY bad idea reputation-wise) I am willing to donate to your defense fund. Heck, maybe I'll even donate 5% off what my clients pay me since they seem to be doing fine in this economy and have yet to demand a discount. Brilliant reply! You made my day.

Alexandra Scott said...

I note that Google, which is quite clearly a software company, just offered its employees a 10% raise in a bid to retain talented staff.

Cormac said...

Why don't you think of it as a wage cut? As someone who is being let go finishing his job tomorrow because of downturn in company performance and a last-in-first-out policy that sees me lose my position as the lowest paid employee terminated while more senior staff who actually wander around all day looking for someone to talk to get to keep their jobs, I find it difficult to feel sorry for you as you do yourself. I would gladly have kept my job for a pay cut, even though I hate it. This is what it's like in the real world, get over yourselves. You are freelance, if you don't want to work with Lionsbridge, don't, no one's making you do anything. In the commercial world people are often let go or have their wages cut without a thing they can do about it. Your moaning over this is quite absurd. Lionsbridge have played right into your hands by such stupid communications on their part. If you were called into an office with the management I wonder if so many of you would be so bold about it. You all need to gain some perspective.

Stan said...

My dear, this is not about wanting to work for Liox or not. This is about how arrogant a major market player can become, openly misusing their position. As for myself, I prefer working for small and local translation offices anyway: they're far more responsive and don't have tons of nonsensical requirements or papers to fill in before they even kindly allow you to work for them.

Back to real life: why don't you try and tell your plumber that you will pay him his rate minus 5%? Again, why? Because he would most probably smash you with his screw wrench over your head. Unfortunately enough, we can't smash Mr. DH with our laptops; we need them for our work. That's why translators use other ways and means to express their disaffection.

Le polatouche said...

"What you really mean is that your gynormous clients are squeezing you to give them a discount. And you’ve already cut expenses down to the bone, so the only place to keep cutting is the massive expenditure on freelanceres". I totally agree with you, particularly on this point. I'm waiting for a kind of point of no return (I do not work WITH (and not FOR) LB by the way). Great article.

Loek van Kooten said...

Miguel, you deserve the nobel prize for this sentence alone:
"Your entire database, which is a massive dark hole encompassing happy freelancers, zombies, mythical creatures, half-real half-imaginary “Alan Walshes” and unsympathetic former providers."

Keep on rocking. I love you. I can't wait to see them go bankrupt.

Kate said...

I knew that some of these major companies are intent on making loads of money over the backs of translators, but this Lionbridge saga simply serves to confirm that refusing to work for companies that have little regard for the tools (i.e. freelance translators) that are the basis of their business is the right decision. If Lionbridge has so little respect for its freelance collaborators, it does not deserve to continue to operate.
Unfortunately there are enough translators (not necessarily good) who are willing to work for very low rates. The only real result of Lionbridge's policy is that translation quality will decline and their clients will do what sensible people do... vote with their feet. Will I weep when the Lionbridge share price falls..... I'll let you guess.

Madeleine said...

Krzysztof - a "response" usually comes directly from the person/entity you address - not from someone using a fake yahoo email account.

"The response was polite, this is anything but."

jesús said...


Héctor said...

It seems ATA retired LB's mention on their Sponsors Page.

Jackie said...

Agreed. Freaking brilliant.

Cruz Losada said...

Gracias Miguel. A jewel reading for Friday, unlike other Friday babbling bullshait.
If words will always retain their power, we translators should follow your example and use them more often as weapon of choice; after all they are our basic tools, we care for them and they could serve us well.

Charlie Bavington said...

I agree with your underlying position.
a) When I first read Walsh’s point about software companies asking for 10% I just interpreted it as him pointing out *other* industries are worse (not, however, that two wrongs make a right, it just means two industries have players behaving badly). I could have been wrong; that was just how it read to me.
b) The simple response to Walsh asking why Q2 figures were used is that they were the latest available at the time. Most of the rest of what you say seems valid enough to me, although I think I am a vendor, in that I sell something, and I broadly pick and choose to whom. I'm not sure why we are not "vendors" unless it's just a semantics thing I'm missing?

Is it worth pointing out that, just as we are all advocating resistance to Liox's move to cut what they pay translators, agencies could try resisting what they possibly perceive as "rate cuts being imposed by customers"? Assuming there is any truth behind the claim. We can say "no". Lionbridge could say "no".

My biggest reservation is with point eight, though, since it is basically just abuse (albeit mild). It's a shame, IMHO. No matter how misguided Walsh's attempt was, it was something, some kind of response from them. I'm not sure calling him a dick is the way to continue the nascent debate. I can only deduce that debate is not the plan. Maybe you think his response not worthy of debate (pity, because the point about exchange rate gains is good, and I'd love to know why Liox have never tried saying "no" to their customers). But it's your blog, your call, naturally, and I wish you a splendid weekend.

Sarah said...

lmao: brilliant reading! Thanks Miguel.


Alex Eames said...

I am stunned that people in communication and software development don't know that an IP address is logged and can be easily traced on WordPress. Just shows how out of touch they are.

It's even worse when your ISP is your own company name.

That is incompetence on a world-class scale. (I always say it's good to be a world leader at something.)

I interpreted the reference to software companies as an oblique reference to LionBridge clients, rather than they were claiming to be one. Still, "large software companies are asking for 10% discounts to all _its_ providers" is not very good English, so any confusion around that sentence is perfectly forgiveable.

Karl Hansen said...

I somehow can't believe that "Alan Walsh" is one of Lionbridge's top managers. Rather an low- or mid-level employee who wanted to defend his employer. (Or maybe a disgruntled soon-to-be-ex-employee seeking to do the company a bad turn...)

I simply can't make myself believe that the top management of a world leader can be unaware that IP addresses are traceable. And that being caught trying to defend themselves posing as a "disinterested third party" could do them any good at all.

Kevin Lossner said...

Oh my. The Big L has stepped in it again. The bit with the IP address really is world class stupidity, but that's par for the course in an environment like Lionbridge.

The name-calling really isn't necessary. I prefer to think of my own expletives when I read about companies acting like this, and the words in my head are generally far harsher.

@Cormac: You're welcome to enjoy "wage cuts" in whatever downtrodden way you like, but it's quite unnecessary for us to do so. Not only can we invite LIOX to get stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey, we can chisel away at the company's customer base and support other LSPs to do the same. And believe me, we do :-) It's entirely appropriate to have a public discussion in which the tactics of a company like Lionbridge are presented. When I do business with a company, I often research its reputation. I don't want abusers to have my hard-earned money. Potential Lionbridge customers have a right to know what they are dealing with. What they do with that information is up to them of course; some may deal with their suppliers in the same sleazy way or worse. Let our griping be a way of helping bring philosophically compatible corporations together for an orgy of mutual abuse while at the same time helping those who want to follow a different path to find it and walk on past.

Walter Popp said...

Hi, everybody out there,

First of all, thanks again to Miguel for his ongoing crusade, even if I agree with some of the above comments that a little bit less dick mongering would help to focus the discussion on the real issues.

Second, congratulations to Rory for his war plan which I find nothing but brilliant (and thanks, too, for all the great links he offers). This is the kind of action that gets down to the nitty gritty. Because, let's face it, the propagation of pamphlets (and I use this term in a positive sense) in the small world of militant translators won't hurt anybody, and won't change anything. I say this because the topics involved (quality, fair pricing, professionalism etc.) have already been 'on the air' in the nineties (don't know whether the antique CompuServe/FLEFO archives are still accessible). And they keep coming back in regular intervals, but our work conditions don't get better anyway.

I mean, if you look at the flurry in all the forums, at all the discussions with colleagues that mainly stay in-group and keep us busy without creating concrete output, I really wonder whether we ever will be able to come up with things that help us improve not only our work conditions, but the perception of translation as a value adding tool for the industry.

Little Swinging Mickey said...

Let me get this right - you've never actually worked for LionBridge, but you have been in the pay of Goldman Sachs? And you're huffing and puffing with this undergraduate ranting about economics? Zero credibility, pal