What did you study?
When I graduated, a Master’s degree did not yet exist. That gives you an idea of how old I am. I have the equivalent of a Master’s degree in Translation (English/Italian with French as an optional subject). I also spent four months on the Erasmus programme at the University of Bologna, the world’s oldest university. None other than Umberto Eco was lecturing there at the time. Although he was probably at a café with his mate Foucault, because I only ever got to see his assistant.
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 ideal first job: it felt somewhat like being pushed out of an aeroplane and having to fix your parachute in free fall. I think that’s where the concept of out of the box originated. In that position, I was able to put my languages to good use and I also gained a lot of technical knowledge. I now know that a ‘joint de culasse’ is a cylinder head gasket and not something people smoke for laughs. After my stint at Volvo I briefly worked in internal communications, but I quickly realised an executive role is not for me. I wanted to build something of my own… The rest is history!
When and why did you set up Blue Lines?
In 2003, the goal was to become the best translation agency, not necessarily the biggest, and to this day, that is what drives us. We keep raising the bar for our clients, and always aim for top-notch quality. Native speakers only, everything proofread by a second native speaker, and we only work with translators who have passed our infamous translation test. That’s where we’ve set the bar for many years. Making a difference for our clients, staff, translators and copywriters was and still is our main driving force.
How would you describe your job at Blue Lines?
I have always focused on the commercial strategy. Branding, positioning, networking, business development, you name it, I love it all. HR and well-being have been added to that list too. It’s so important to create a stimulating environment and to develop a warm corporate culture with a human touch! Our people are our greatest asset, and happy employees result in happy clients.
At the moment I am also developing a content agency under the wing of Blue Lines because our clients were increasingly asking for advice in developing their content strategy. They were the driving force behind this new business (ad)venture.
How would you describe Blue Lines?
Probably the best translation agency in the world, of course! It may seem a little pretentious to describe your own business as unique, but I am convinced that we have pushed boundaries. Throughout the years, we have always remained true to our values, and we get recognition for that. Even from our very own competitors. A while ago we did a benchmarking exercise: we anonymously asked ten competitors who they believed offered the best quality on the Belgian translation market, and nine of them answered Blue Lines. The tenth nominated themselves. 🙃
When it comes to quality, we aim to keep setting the standard. Our trademark? Fluent translations and copy that converts, now and always. We are also known for our friendly atmosphere and person-oriented culture. Simply put, we are a people planet company. Our purchasing policy? Fair-trade and eco-friendly above all! We like to be part of the solution, and we hope to inspire others to follow that same path. Swanky parties to impress our clients, or planting trees and supporting good causes? The latter please.
What has been your most creative outpouring?
In the past I would’ve said drawing, with no hesitation. And for years, I played the guitar too. But my talents clearly lie elsewhere. I’ve often been told I have good writing skills, even if I don’t really get around to it these days. Does limewashing count as a creative outlet?
What are your biggest challenges at work?
Keeping the finger on the pulse in a fast-changing market. Machine translation and creative translations still don’t go hand-in-hand, and I don’t think they ever will. But we need to remain alert. After all, something is only impossible until it has been accomplished. I also think it’s very important to keep everyone on board, while making sure they remain motivated and inspired. And to turn challenges into opportunities.
What motivates you?
Convincing people of the importance of high-quality translations and copywriting for their brand and image. Above all, I am motivated by everyone who works at Blue Lines. When I see how our people continue to grow and push their boundaries, I am genuinely proud. We have always said that we wanted to be the best translation agency, not necessarily the biggest. Pursuing that goal with this dream team, and learning from them, that motivates me immensely.
Which profession would you never be able/willing to pursue?
Any profession that harms people, the environment and society. Working purely with numbers and figures also seems like a nightmare to me. Actually, I would say any job that’s all about short-term thinking.
What qualities do you need to be a good entrepreneur?
You need the confidence to jump into the abyss and trust that you will learn to fly on the way down. It’s better to regret something you have done than something you haven’t – that’s been my personal motto for a while now.
And the ability to actively network, and above all to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. Be eager to learn and not afraid to question yourself. Learn to push your ego aside. Be humble. Damn, now I can’t get that Kendrick Lamar track out of my head.
You either win or you learn. That’s the mindset you need. Never think you’ve made it. There’s always plenty to learn still.
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 fact sheets 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?
On a professional level, I want to promote and strengthen our name and reputation even further. Privately, I want to travel a lot and be the best daddy I can to my daughter Federica. I want to read books and continue to challenge myself to be the best possible version of myself. I want to start writing again.
But most of all, I want to live in the here and now. ‘Someday Isle’ is the land of unrealised dreams. I like this metaphor. 🙃 Oh, and a pied à terre somewhere in Indonesia wouldn’t be too bad either. Last but not least, I want to learn to speak Bahasa properly.
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. Other than that, I would say I am virtually perfect. And extremely modest too.
Hobbies, passions, secrets, great stories?
Surfing has been my religion and therapy par excellence. 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! I can no longer surf because of my limited balance, but I like to compensate for that with lots of trips, delicious food and drinks. But also American literature. And being an entrepreneur of course.