By Sandra Bretting
(Photo by Gary Fountain)
No matter how you say it, providing translations and interpreting services for companies and organizations can be lucrative.
Take, for example, Ludmila Golovine, 43. She launched a translation company in 1993 while still a student at the Universtiy of Houston.
Although her company – called MasterWord Services – suffered its share of setbacks over the years and almost went bankrupt in 1998, today it employs 112 people and countless contractors who work for more than 300 clients. The firm posted $14 million in revenue last year.
Golovine says her company does more than just provide literal translations; it helps people who otherwise wouldn’t be understood. Maybe that’s why one of her favorite clients is the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, where her translators work with children in turmoil.
“We’re basically giving a voice to people who don’t have a voice, ” Golovine said.
MasterWord Services provides translations in 250 languages, from popular languages like Spanish and French to esoteric ones like Nigerian Pidgin and Swahili.
Her list of clients includes major oil and gas companies, hospitals, government agencies and social service organizations. The company translates everything from insurance documents and legal briefs to conversations between businesspeople.
Golovine gives credit for her success to the University of Houston’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship.
“I can’t say enough how much I appreciate the entrepreneurship program for getting me where I am today,” Golovine said.
As a UH undergraduate, Golovine created a last-minute business plan about a potential translation company for a class assignment. “And I literally did it the night before,” she admitted.
“You know, that’s one of the few times I ever gave anyone an A-plus in that class,” said Bill Sherrill, a former two-time governor of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board who taught a class on entrepreneurship and ultimately became her mentor.
Golovine’s career began in Moscow, where the 19-year-old worked as a tour guide who could speak both English and French.
Her goal was to study international finance, and when one of her tour groups learned that, they took up a collection to pay for her plane ticket to the United States.
Armed with $304 and a handwritten list of people her parents had met through a scientific exchange program years earlier, Golovine landed in Cleveland, Ohio. There she studied business and began applying to universities, including UH.
“When they offered me an academic scholorship, I cried the entire way over here on the plane, because all I knew about Houston was that it was really hot, it had big lizards and everyone was a cowboy, ” Golovine said.
She met Sherrill and received her pivotal class assignment during her first year.
“What impressed me from the very beginning was her dedication to preparation,” Sherrill recalled.
“She also had the ability to anticipate what to do next, which was rare for someone her age, and it’s still one of the most difficult things for any manager,” her former professor said.
Golovine said one of the best habits she ever cultivated was to update her business plan yearly.
“The only year I didn’t do that was the one right before we almost went under,” she said. “So that’s my advice … as well as always be good to your banker.”
Sandra Bretting is a Houston freelance writer. sandrabretting.com