…Importance of being focused. If you try to offer too many things or try to be everything to everyone, you will dilute your expertise. Being focused, having a few services and doing it well is far more important than trying to be an expert at everything. Over time, we actually started to offer less diversity in services but were providing our clients with a superior service.
As a part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gary Kalaci.
Gary Kalaci is the CEO at Alexa Translations, a translations provider that offers specialized translations services and artificial intelligence language solutions for the legal and financial industries.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Initially, I started my exposure to the language industry as a court interpreter. Later, I became a lawyer, and the combination of understanding the intersection between legal needs and language services provided me with a unique background. I wanted to do something where I could merge both worlds and this is how the Alexa Translations concept came about. I decided to focus on building a translations company that was focused on the legal and financial markets, and the rest is history.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company?
I had a very good sense of the needs that the legal industry had but didn’t know the translation industry as well. I had done some work in translation, but I didn’t know the ins and outs like someone with a professional translation background.
The biggest challenge was learning quickly, knowing our strengths and figuring out what we should focus on to produce a quality service.
What lesson did you learn from that?
You need existing background and a lot of research before going into business in any industry. The more you can learn from others — mentors and industry leaders — in the early stages, the better it is. Getting on top of that in advance means that you will be less likely to make mistakes that can easily be avoided by some early guidance.
I learned a lot from a wide range of people, from translators and heads of translation departments, to other entrepreneurs in the service industry. I brought that experience and learnings from clients who were able to share their specific needs and pain points to our team. We would then dissect the information and think through how to keep getting better, in order to adjust and accommodate client needs.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
There were two main pieces.
One was that I was determined to produce a high-quality service. Translations was often commoditized, but we wanted to provide a high-quality service with customized customer service, and to ensure our clients felt like they were being taken care of through things like quick response time. We spent time finding out about their specific needs.
Second is having a great team that buys into the goals of the business and shares a common vision, and then applies their individual and combined team passion to achieving that vision.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Importance of being focused. If you try to offer too many things or try to be everything to everyone, you will dilute your expertise. Being focused, having a few services and doing it well is far more important than trying to be an expert at everything. Over time, we actually started to offer less diversity in services but were providing our clients with a superior service.
2. Someone told me relatively early in my business development days “don’t confuse activity with progress.” Just because you are busy does not mean that you are progressing and being strategic with your time. If your activities don’t fit into your strategic plan, you may be wasting your time on things that don’t matter.
3. As an early entrepreneur, you try to take on as much as possible yourself and avoid outsourcing to minimize costs from an expense perspective. However, we as entrepreneurs need to learn when to defer to professionals, or we will spend more time than necessary on certain tasks that can be done more efficiently by others. One instance for myself was learning to hire a good accountant from the start. I was a lawyer and could take on a lot myself but learned its sometimes better to outsource the roles that are not in your area of expertise — in my case marketing or accounting. It’s okay to give up control when you need to and stick to what you’re good at, since we can’t be good at everything. Learn to outsource and let go, internally or externally, and either delegate it or find the right person or group to support you.
4. Spend the necessary time to find the right team for you and your vision. This is so important. Often, we can rush with the hiring process as we want to move along to the next thing but this can result in you ending up in a situation where you’re thinking “is this really the best way to do it? Is that the best fit for the job?” The team is a reflection of yourself so having the right people is critical.
5. Learn to take risks. Taking risks as an entrepreneur is to fail and learn quickly. And the quicker you learn, the better. In entrepreneurship, there’s always a level of uncertainty, so the learning aspect is very important. Without embracing those risks, you won’t grow as fast. You have to put the time in, take risks and learn. Take the time to be strategic and once the plan is in place, be really aggressive in pursuing your goals. There’s no way around it as an entrepreneur.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s important to delegate properly — train your team on your expectations and what you’d like them to achieve, meaning you must take time to think through what you want to accomplish from a business perspective. There are times you will be busy and need to plan for it and be more strategic in thinking. This also means that you’re planning a lot more before actually doing something, so you’re spending less time doing things that are not within your focus. Ultimately, delegating properly will mean you have more time and make your life easier overall.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
The ever-ending quest of better balance and focusing on physical health. When I talk about strategy with the team, this reflects in personal life. Eating, rest, exercise enough to boost creativity and the ability to perform better. Getting enough sleep makes you more clear-headed and you’re never going to be able to do this without detachment. Ensuring you are planning and organized in your personal life will be mirrored in your professional life.
The natural evolution in our business was the introduction of technology. This was a time when I didn’t have all the answers but happened when we took over a technology company to ensure we were better suited to address it and we continue to build on this momentum. We saw a gap in the industry, as AI becomes an important part of all businesses. My idea was always, let’s build it up.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
We’re in an industry where technology is going to be really disruptive and change how translations are done. We want to be at the cutting-edge and want to be leaders in making translations more efficient while still providing superior quality. Being the transformative technology leaders in the industry to the next evolution in translation.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
It’s so important to give back and help children, who are the future…
There are two organizations I’m involved with and strongly believe in: Junior Achievement Canada and America, which train middle and high school students on financial literacy and entrepreneurship. I think teaching financial literacy to children is so important, as having a good grasp of finances can set them up for true success long term.
I’m also very involved with Golden Future South Africa, which works with high school students in community in S.A. on health awareness life skills, health initiatives, microenterprise and education.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn — Gary Kalaci
Twitter — @garykalaci