Energy Corridor-based Masterword Services Inc.’s 20th year in business has been a big one. After being recognized last spring as one of the top 500 woman-owned businesses in the U.S. and one of the top 100 woman-owned businesses in Texas byDiversityBusiness.com, Founder and CEO Ludmila Rusakova Golovine’s company was recently ranked as the 50th top-grossing language service provider in the world, and the 10th largest in North America by market research firm Common Sense Advisory.
‘A pretty aggressive business plan’
Golovine has long had an enduring fascination with languages, stretching back to when she began studying English as a kindergartner in her native Russia. She was a student at the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages before receiving a scholarship to study at the University of Houston, where she changed her major to finance. She was in her final semester before graduation when she decided to round out her course credits by taking an entrepreneurship class as an elective.
Though she didn’t know it at the time, that class was the first in what is now UH’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, one of the top programs of its kind in the country. Her professor, Bill Sherrill — a former governor of the Federal Reserve and head of FDIC — started the program. When she registered for the course, Golovine did not foresee the impact it would have on her future.
“That class kind of changed my life,” Golovine said. “I ended up changing my major and graduating with a bachelor’s in finance and entrepreneurship, and then completed the master’s for the entrepreneurship program. The business plan I wrote in that program was Masterword Services, it was my homework assignment; I still have that paper … that I showed to Bill Sherrill. He made a comment that it was a ‘pretty aggressive business plan,’ but he still gave me an A+.”
‘No wonder I was at the office’
Masterword started off as a one-woman operation in 1993, with Golovine translating Russian languages, as well as handling all aspects of the business’ bookkeeping, sales and marketing. Twenty years on, the company now has offices in Russia, Kazakhstan and Canada, and works in over 250 different languages. Even Golovine herself is surprised at how fast Masterword has grown.
“When we [determined] the average growth over the last 20 years … That was kind of a ‘wow moment,’” Golovine laughed. “We just analyzed it this year … and the average came out to be 40.8 percent per year. I said, ‘oh my God, no wonder I was at the office.’”
The services Masterword provides fall into four major groups. The company’s primary source of income is in translating written documents mainly for energy-related businesses, as well as hospitals. The second group is devoted to providing round-the-clock spoken-word interpreting service — either face-to-face, over the phone or via remote video — mostly in the Houston area.
“Believe it or not, Houston speaks over 150 different languages,” Golovine said. “We do a lot of work with hospitals, a lot of work with courts, we help Child Protective Services, and we work with a lot of caseworkers and children who cannot speak any English. We basically help people communicate here.”
The training and assessments group trains people around the world to work as interpreters of uncommon spoken languages, such as Dinka of southern Sudan, or Maimai of northern Papua New Guinea. The company’s fourth division is for special projects, where Masterword organizes onsite languages services for clients in remote locations of regions like Africa or central Asia.
‘The world’s becoming smaller’
According to Golovine, there’s a direct correlation between the growth of her company and the shrinking of traditional communication barriers like language and distance.
“Globalization, internationalization — the world’s becoming smaller,” Golovine said. “There are over 6,000 languages being spoken in the world today — that’s not dialects, that’s languages — and I guess as we get smaller into one global community, people want to communicate with each other.”
As her company enters into its third decade of operations, Golovine said she’s been honored by the recent high-rankings given to Masterword this year, and is optimistic for the future.
“It’s been 20 years of a lot of hard work,” Golovine said. “We’re just very excited coming to work every day, because … we love helping people communicate. We try to make the world a happier place, and a place where people can understand each other; trying to make a difference one language at a time, one person at a time.”