Meet Stef: plant lover, CEO of Blue Lines, and avid traveller

This ambitious go-getter has already conquered some very wild waves. He has an indomitable fighting spirit against substandard translations and will always stand up for his fellow human beings. He will find his inner peace in nature, while he is limewashing a garden wall, or when he’s reading a good book. Meet Stef Van De Gehuchte: plant lover, CEO of Blue Lines, and avid traveller.

What did you study?
I have a Master’s degree in Translation (English/Italian with French). I also spent four months on the Erasmus Programme at the Università di Bologna, the world’s oldest university. None other than Umberto Eco was teaching there at the time. 

What did you do in your previous jobs?
Like so many translators, I spent the first few years of my active career at Volvo Action Service. It was the perfect start with varied work that made me actively use my languages and where creative thinking was essential. Sometimes we had to be incredibly inventive! I also gained a lot of technical knowledge. I now know that a ‘joint de culasse’ won’t get you high: it’s a cylinder head gasket. I was already pretty socially committed back then, and one thing led to another. I joined a centre-left political party and worked as a member of the group staff for a while. However, I soon realised that I wasn't really cut out for that kind of work. I wanted my own business. The rest is history! 

When and why did you set up Blue Lines?
I found “becoming the best but not necessarily the largest translation agency” a very appealing mission statement. How about raising the bar and striving for excellence by adhering to certain principles in a market governed by mediocrity? Native speakers only, proofreading by a second native speaker, and only working with translators who can pass our infamous translation test. Making a difference for our customers and stakeholders was and still is the strongest driving force. 

How would you describe your job at Blue Lines?
In recent years, I have been focusing more and more on sales and marketing. And strategy, of course: where do we want to go and how can we get there? How do we want the market to perceive us? How can we live up to our tagline day after day, even with considerable growth? How can we deal with the challenges and evolutions in our sector, without abandoning our mission and values? What are the challenges and opportunities? These are the kinds of issues I like to focus on. 

How would you describe Blue Lines?
Probably the best translation agency in the world, of course! It may seem a bit pretentious to describe your own company as unique, but we really are the odd one out in our sector. While most companies seem to be caught up in some kind of race to the bottom, we have always remained true to our vision. When it comes to quality, we aim to keep setting the standard. Our trademark is smooth, fluent translations and copy, now and always. What characterises Blue Lines above all is its atmosphere and culture. We are a People Company that is trying to contribute to a warmer and more liveable society, making an impact on people's lives where we can. Our purchasing policy? Fairtrade and eco-friendly above all! And why travel by car when you can go by bike or public transport? 

Family situation?
I live with my wonderful partner and our four children. Ilse (yes, another member of the Blue Lines team) already had three children, and I also had a daughter from a previous life. Together, we live in a friendly residential street in Ghent. It can get pretty crowded in the house, but I've never been happier. I will gladly sign up for the next fifty years! 

What has been your most creative outpouring?
The old me would have said drawing, but now it’s more writing. Even if I don’t really get around to it these days. Does limewashing count? 

What are your biggest challenges at work?
Machine translation and creative translations still don't go together, and I don't think they ever will. Nevertheless, we need to keep our finger on the pulse. After all, something is only impossible until it has been accomplished. 

What motivates you?
Convincing people of the importance of high-quality translations for their brand and image. Above all, I am stimulated by everyone who works at Blue Lines. If I step back and look at what this team has already achieved, I feel genuinely proud. We have always said that we wanted to be the best translation agency, not necessarily the biggest. Working with this dream team every day to live up to our promise, that really gives me a tremendous sense of motivation. 

Which profession would you never be able/willing to pursue?
Any profession that harms people, the environment, and society. I never wanted to be a ski jumper either. 

What qualities do you need to be a good entrepreneur?
The courage to take a jump. You need the confidence to jump into the abyss and have the trust that you will learn to fly on the way down. And the ability to actively network, to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. Peter Hinssen is right, the network always wins. 

Is there a particular translation project you won't easily forget?
We spent eighteen months working very intensively on The HollandBelgium Bid. The press releases, blog posts, and facts kept pouring in, up to ten a day. They all needed to be translated within twenty-four hours into many different languages, including Arabic. We didn’t manage to bring the World Cup to the Low Countries, but it was a huge challenge and an excellent opportunity for growth. 

What kinds of things are on your bucket list?
Professionally, I want to spread our name and reputation and grow even further. Personally, I’d like to travel a lot more with my beloved partner and our children. Japan is at the top of an almost infinite list, as is Norway. 

Are there any questions (about your character) that we cannot ask you?
Next question! Perhaps I should sometimes try to communicate a little more, rather than assume that people can read my mind. 

Hobbies, passions, secrets, great stories?
Surfing has been my religion and therapy par excéllence. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never done it. Just give it a try, and you’ll understand! Almost all my great stories took place on a surfboard in Indonesia. I got a lot of scars to show for it, but those were the days! Surfing is no longer possible due to my limited balance, but I compensate for that with lots of trips, delicious food, and drinks. And American literature. Although I must admit that Netflix has been limiting my reading time. 

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