The General Theory of the Translation Company – A Preview

Renato BeninattoI have known Renato Beninatto for several years now. He is a brilliant and pleasant man with an open and catching laughter. He likes to describe himself as a contrarian, but behind his shocking jokes he hides a traditional and solid business wisdom. The metaphor of translation as toilet paper and the blatant statement that quality does not matter are used to catch the attention of a traditionally skeptical and cold audience.

He has been gifted with natural communicative skills that he has learned to master and make him a top seller.

He could have succeeded in any industry he chose to engage, and I think that entering the language services industry was not just the obvious consequence of growing up and being educated in many different countries. Perhaps, it was also the result of a certain narcissism, which, however, contributes to the charm that he usually exercises on people, especially women. And this is certainly one thing many envy him. Not surprisingly, he is a very popular figure in the industry, although he is definitely not as controversial as he would possibly like to be.

I often had the chance to meet Renato because he is a frequent goer and regular speaker in industry events. Recently, I met him in Rome, at the Pi School Opening.

Tucker JohnsonSince his Common Sense Advisory days, I have known that Renato would be eager to share his knowledge beyond industry events, and possibly write a book on the language services industry to be a guide for those interested in starting a business in the industry. So, I was definitely not surprised to hear from him that he was eventually about to publish a book, together with Tucker Johnson. Indeed, I was surprised when he asked me to read it before publication and write a review.

– You can even knock it down, he said.
– Sure, — I replied — I’ll slap your face and slander your name all over the place. (Renato is 6.3 feet and I am 5.4.)
– Yeah, that’s the spirit! — he added laughing as usual — No matter if you write badly of the book, as long as you write about it.

And then he laughed again and went to say hello to one of the hosts of the event.

Before leaving the event, I texted Renato and teased him to stay focused and not to forget to send me a copy of the book as soon as it was finalized.

I do not know Tucker Johnson personally, but I do not struggle to believe what Renato says, that he would write much of the first draft on a trip to Australia, taking advantage of the fifteen hours of almost immobility he was forced to.

Anyway, eventually and a bit unexpectedly, Renato sent me his feat. And Tucker’s, obviously. I had followed Renato’s tip to read the first chapter of the book, and as soon as the page finished loading, my first reaction was, “I knew it!”

What the heck did I know? That Tucker’s feat was to keep Renato focused; not surprisingly, Renato says Tucker takes himself too seriously. The great respect Tucker claims to have for Renato’s experience, knowledge, and insights had probably been the motive for him to keep working on the book, although he also says that sometimes he wishes that Renato would take things a little bit more seriously.

Renato and Tucker have made clear, from the first lines to the last ones, that they both had fun in writing the book, the same fun, apparently, they have working in this industry.

I have always been very critical of the many detrimental aspects I have seen afflicting the industry ever since I have been part of it, and even judging by the myriad of blogs and forums, and from the conversations that I regularly have with colleagues, if I ever had fun working in this industry, it certainly has not been the case for quite some time.

I then approached The General Theory of the Translation Company with the spirit of a reader who hopes to find reasons and insights to review his positions and regain the enthusiasm he has lost or which he has never had and which is, however, necessary to deal with an industry that the authors themselves do not hesitate to define hard.

I must admit that my hopes have been partially overturned, but also, as it is obvious, reversing the prospect, that they have also been largely fulfilled.

I greatly appreciated the business-oriented slant and the specialized, though mild, approach with which the book was drafted.

Renato seems to have poured all his business wisdom and experience into this book, and so does Tucker, but do not expect any twist of originality, inventiveness, or upstream advice. Renato and Tucker admit they have been inspired, with self-confessed immodesty, by John Maynard Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, but their book will most likely not have the same impact as the work of their source of inspiration.

The book is an easy reading though and, in many respects, it is enlightening. Its most exciting feature is that it does not have to be read linearly, and it can be a typical desktop reference for any entrepreneur in this industry.

Pushing a BA approach in an area where many, too many, still consider the core task as an art, acting and looking like improvisators, can definitely be seen as innovative. Unfortunately, many industry veterans would probably disagree with many a concept, term, view and opinion Renato and Tucker offer quite nonchalantly. I myself disagreed on several views and found some statements a bit apodictic, even because the book is lacking references and a bibliography—at least the draft I received—while many claims should better be substantiated with fact and figures.

In conclusion, I certainly appreciate the effort, for the challenges of an industry whose operators are mostly unprepared, for their experience in other industry or for the bias from other professional experiences in the same industry.

Many years ago, during my early days in the academic arena, I designed and proposed a post-graduate course in translation business administration. I’m happy Renato and Tucker have provided a textbook. Because textbooks are not necessarily boring, to read and write.