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Ian Henderson of Rubric: “Balancing ambition with realistic expectations”

For me, resilience is about not losing sight of your goal as you encounter setbacks and obstacles. If your destination is clear, a set-back can only appear as temporary. You may find yourself up a blind alley right now, but you can already see that there are other ways of getting to your destination. In […]

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For me, resilience is about not losing sight of your goal as you encounter setbacks and obstacles. If your destination is clear, a set-back can only appear as temporary. You may find yourself up a blind alley right now, but you can already see that there are other ways of getting to your destination.


In my work as a coach and consultant, I speak with business leaders across multiple industries about their most significant challenges. One common theme continues to emerge — rapid change and disruption are the new norm in business, and the only constant is the demand for resilience. At the heart of resilience is the ability to adapt and recover quickly from adversity. I am certain that more than intelligence and talent, resilience is the single most important trait required to succeed in today’s highly complex market.

My “Rising through Resilience” interview series explores the topic of resilience in interviews with leaders across all walks of business.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ian A. Henderson (www.rubric.com), author of Global Content Quest: In Search of Better Translations, is chief technology officer and co-founder of Rubric, a global language service provider. During the last 25 years, Henderson has partnered with Rubric customers to deliver relevant global content to their end users, enabling them to reap the rewards of globalization, benefit from agile workflows, and guarantee the integrity of their content. Prior to founding Rubric, Henderson worked as a software engineer for Siemens in Germany.


Thank you so much for joining me! Can you share your backstory?

I grew up in Denmark and my partner Françoise grew-up in France. We are both dual British and French citizens. Françoise lived all her adult life in the UK and I worked as a software engineer in several countries including Nigeria, Germany, New Zealand before settling in the UK. As for Françoise, having enjoyed an early career as a translator in England, she had naturally drifted into a managerial position in the UK subsidiary of a Dublin Ireland based translation company.

What are the top three factors you would attribute to your success?

Adaptability — starting our adult life in a foreign country, we developed an adaptability common to many immigrants. When you make the decision to settle in a new country, you start adapting to the different culture, the different habits, the different festivals that punctuate everyday life. In the beginning, everything is exciting, then you go through phases of homesickness and rejection and after a while you start identifying with your new adopted national character. Françoise and I were shaped by that process and this adaptability has been an asset in our life as entrepreneurs.

Collaboration — from the start Françoise and I took on well-defined roles; she is the natural project manager, I love solving technical problems. Over the years we have acquired many new skills but always instinctively avoided stepping on each other’s toes. Maybe it’s because we share a deep allergy to waste and there nothing more wasteful than conflict.

Open communications — I remember early on, just before we signed the official company creation papers, we met in a pub half-way between our respective homes just to discuss our hopes, fears, certainties and reservations about the upcoming venture. Thinking back this meeting exemplified the principle of open communications that pervades throughout our entire organization and has proved to be an enormous strength: at Rubric, it’s always ok to talk.

What makes your company stand out from the crowd?

We often hear that there are 28,000 thousand translation companies in the world. 99% of these companies want to deliver a good service, on time and at the best possible price. This has to be the baseline for any company and we see the value we offer our clients elsewhere. By looking at translation as one small step in a wider business process, we help our clients identify the tweaks they can make at every stage of their operations to ensure their products don’t end-up as expensive flops on the global stage: from design and manufacturing, thru marketing and compliance, all the way to customer experience, selling internationally adds a new dimension.

How has your company continued to thrive in the face of rapid change and disruption in your industry?

The short answer is customer loyalty. Our clients do the selling for us; they do the selling to other departments within their organizations; they do the selling to their friends and business contacts or when they move companies.

According to a recent KPMG study, resilience is the underlying trait of most successful businesses. How would you define “resilience?”

For me, resilience is about not losing sight of your goal as you encounter setbacks and obstacles. If your destination is clear, a set-back can only appear as temporary. You may find yourself up a blind alley right now, but you can already see that there are other ways of getting to your destination.

When you think of tenacity and endurance, what person comes to mind? (Can you explain why you chose that person?)

Andrew Murray, the tennis player. As a nine-year kid he survived the Dunblane school massacre, where 16 of his friends and a teacher were killed by a man Andy knew well. He became world number 1 in an era with possibly the toughest opponents possible: Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Was there ever a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? (Can you share the story with us?)

When we founded Rubric 25 years ago, my partner, Françoise, and I sunk our entire personal savings into the venture. Our families’ reactions to the great idea ranged from cautious support to outright opposition, but we were confident enough that we knew where we wanted the new venture to go and we were certain we had the right partner to do it. So off we went!

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? (Can you share that story with us?)

Having been in business for 25 years we have weathered a few economic downturns; in one instance we lost two large clients in the space of six months as one of our large multi-national clients closed two of their divisions we were working with. Luckily one of the contacts who lost her job in that process moved to another large company and we started working with them shortly afterward.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? (Can you share a story?)

One summer (while I was at university in St-Andrews in Scotland), I spent three months in a remote area of Greenland as an assistant to a professional geologist.

Having the same person to talk to day and night for three months. I was there to carry the stones, which was not particularly exciting. — no fresh food, only tin food to eat. That experience helped me to become conscious of the things that are really important to me and those are the things that resurface in my mind whenever I hit a rough patch.

What strategies do you use to strengthen your resilience? (Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. Please share a story or an example for each)

Starting with a map and being prepared. We often tell our clients that to be successful internationally they must put the translation on their business process roadmap from day one. As entrepreneurs, we too try to define our goals and make a clear plan when we embark on a new project whether it is introducing a new ERP system or taking a new direction in sales and marketing.

Balancing ambition with realistic expectations. Bearing in mind that no path is ever completely smooth and knowing that one hill is likely to hide another helps us to keep a cool head when we hit a bump in the road as it does no take us by total surprise.

Governance- You can have a clear goal and the best strategy in the world, but if you do not measure your success against well-defined milestones, you will never know how you are doing along the way. This is also something we encourage our clients to do in the context of their global content to ensure that their efforts are spent wisely.

How can leaders create a more resilient workforce?

One single word: empowerment. A single word but a word that implies a lot: for example, that

– you give them the information they need so they are able to grasp the big picture;

– you trust them to make decisions and take responsibilities (which implies that they must be allowed to make mistakes);

– they learn to practice open communications. Open communication is not an intuitive skill as most of us have a natural fear not just of conflict but tackling any difficult subject. It can take time for new employees to understand that it’s ok to say you don’t understand something or that you have made a mistake, but it is essential that they learn to do that if you want to create a climate of empowerment.

Extensive research suggests that people who have a clear purpose in their lives are more likely to persevere during difficult times. What are your goals?

We believe access to information is a human right and everyone deserves information in their own language, so you could say that is our purpose but underpinning that ideal is the compelling desire to avoid wasted effort. I believe that those combined elements provide the thrust that drives us forward.

What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?

We cannot change the past, but we can reshape the future.

– Dalai Lama

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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