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Global Language Solutions (GLS) was founded in 1994 by Inna Kassatkina and Olga Smirnova. They turned their global finesse and knack for linguistics into a successful translation and interpreting firm. Today, GLS has over 350 clients, including Allergan, Hallmark, and LifeWave. GLS is a certified woman-owned business, driven and operated by more than 35 employees and over 2,000 contractors. It is headquartered in southern California, with offices in Budapest, Warsaw, and Buenos Aires.
Inna Kassatkina is co-founder and president of Global Language Solutions. Her excellent management and strategic planning skills help drive the success of GLS. As the president of GLS, she implements aggressive and innovative strategies to grow the company’s revenue.
As the CEO of Global Language Solutions, Olga Smirnova has been integral in building the company’s strong clientele of government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and emerging international ventures. She focuses on service expansion and the strategic implementation of new technologies to streamline company operations.
Together, they run this multi-million dollar translation and interpreting agency in southern California. They are long-time best friends orchestrating the balance of business, family, and life outside of the office.
MO: How did you meet? What inspired you to go into business together?
Inna & Olga: We met while working for a company that specialized in exports to Russia in the early 90’s. For Olga, it was her first job in America (she had graduated from a university in Russia). Inna started her studies at Moscow State University and then transferred to University of California, Irvine, so it was her first job out of college. Since both of us had a degree in linguistics, our job duties included translation and interpreting to/from Russian. In 1994, Inna happened to read an article in Inc. magazine which discussed the steps of opening one’s own business. We were immediately inspired and decided to open our own translation agency. We called it The Russian Word, Inc. because, at first, we focused on just one language pair, English and Russian. A few years later, after we started offering services in many languages, we renamed it Global Language Solutions, Inc. (GLS).
MO: What were the biggest challenges you faced being foreign-born women who came to the U.S. and launched a business out of your homes?
Inna & Olga: We didn’t encounter any challenges due to the fact that we were foreign-born. On the opposite, we found that in the language business, having an accent (Russian in our case) was a slight advantage – often a conversation starter and ice-breaker.
Working out of our homes was not a problem either. Since we never borrowed a cent from a bank or our friends and family circle, we were committed to limiting our monthly expenses. Renting an office would fall into that category – we rented our first space three years after starting the business.
We started this business out of our apartment – young and new to the States – and, today, GLS is one of the largest translation agencies in the U.S. – talk about the ‘American Dream’!
MO: Are there any specific advantages or disadvantages of being a woman-owned business?
Inna & Olga:
Disadvantages: For women who want to have careers and motherhood, juggling both can be very challenging if the business is not well-established by the time their children are born. So, the advice we give is, if possible, start young, work hard, and then, once your processes and teams are in place, start a family.
Advantages: Having a female business partner has helped a great deal – when, for different reasons (mostly family-related), either of us had to go on a maternity leave, take time-off for a short vacation, etc., the other partner would step in to do what was needed. It’s a great feeling of comfort, knowing that while you’re gone, the business is going as usual. Knowing how often business partnerships don’t work well, we understand how incredibly lucky we are in having a great partnership. In almost 20 years of knowing each other, we haven’t had a single major argument.
MO: Over the past three years GLS revenues grew well over 100%. What have been the key components to your success?
Inna & Olga: We’ve had amazing growth in the last three years – part of this success is attributable to the ISO processes we established four years ago, which led to the pursuit and achievement of ISO 9001 certification. Additionally, creating a formal sales department in 2006 allowed for a dedicated team to develop existing accounts and looking for new business. Overall, our growth is definitely a result of our entire team providing stellar client support. Their dedication and quality work is what causes the clients come back to us again and again and, in turn, refer our translation and interpreting services to others.
MO: What influenced your decision to expand into Argentina, Poland, and Hungary?
Inna & Olga: In each of the locations we decided to open – Argentina, Poland, and Hungary – we had people “on the ground” in those countries who had previously worked for GLS as project managers and were originally from those countries. There was very little to explain to them in terms of how we did business, and they were very comfortable in the business environment in their native countries; it did not feel foreign to them.
MO: If I could grant you a business related wish right now, what would you ask for?
Inna & Olga: We hope someone invents a magic button that can be pressed at night, which would turn off all business thoughts, to-do lists, and finish the unfinished projects of the day. That would be nice.
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