Translation company presses ahead with international growth
A translation services company in Bury St Edmunds is pressing ahead with a bold international expansion strategy that has already seen it make two major acquisitions and open a further six overseas offices in the past 18 months.
As part of a master plan to “push on to the next level,” ASK Translation managing director, Gary Keens is engaged in negotiations which could see the company open up a new base in the Middle East, another in either Singapore or Japan and make its first overseas acquisition in the very near future.
He is also pushing the ASK brand into new markets, with ASK Internet launched within the last few days and a number of other professional services offerings still being weighed up.
Keens recently visited Paris, the location of his next acquisition, in order to discuss terms. It is hoped that the acquisition could add further value to a recent contract win with a major French financial institution.
Meanwhile, having just returned from fact-finding trip to the United Arab Emirates Keens will shortly be conducting a similar visit to the Far East, with a view to establishing a physical presence in both territories.
If either office can emulate the feats of the company’s new US base, which generated turnover of $1m in its first year of operations, then Keens said he will be very happy.
“The UAE, Singapore and Japan boast mature wealthy economies and are characterised by a willingness to pay professional rates for high quality work - in contrast to China and Russia for example.
“Our growth strategy is underpinned by a desire to gain a strong foothold in the high value market globally.”
Having missed the turnover target for this year of £2m by a mere £5k – from a base of £600k two years ago – Keens is confident that he can also get within touching distance of his five year milestone of £15m.
ASK does not fit the typical profile of a fast-growth venture, if only because it will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year. Nor has it received substantial sums of external financing. ASK was set up in a spare bedroom in 1988 - while Keens, a chemist by profession, was still just 24 - with a £2,000 loan from the Prince’s Trust and £50 from his own pocket.
Today the company employs 35, owns its own 7,000 sq ft commercial premises in the heart of Bury St Edmunds, has operations in eight countries worldwide and a network of translators covering 60 countries.
Only over the past two years or so has the company taken on any finance, with its bank, Lloyds TSB Corporate helping to bank-roll the recent wave of acquisitions.
The spree was kicked-off in February last year, with the acquisition of The Total Translation Company, a move that added a European sales office in the Netherlands as well as representative offices in New York and Frankfurt.
The next month saw something of a logical progression, with the acquisition of AGET, a 50 year old London based firm that specialises in financial translation services for the German market. The company counts names such as Deutsche Bank and Airbus among its clients.
Keens said: “Having made the first acquisition, the second one suddenly became much more attractive, giving us the opportunity to service AGET’s German contracts from our newly acquired base on the ground in Germany.”
The seed for ASK’s current wave of expansion was sown when Keens passed his 40th birthday: “I got to the age of 40 and thought to myself, I’m still enthusiastic, driven and able: I want to build a bigger business,” he said.
Having created a very solid reputation for ASK in the UK marketplace, he reasoned that the platform was in place to, as Keens describes it, “take the business to the next level.”
“I looked around in both the UK and in European market and saw a market ripe for consolidation - similar to the rather fragmented estate agency market in the eighties and nineties.
“If you look at the US market, the market leader has revenues of over $400m. I decided there was no reason that ASK could not compete with these kinds of players. You have to have something to aspire to.”
Keens is glad that his current bank, Lloyds TSB Corporate shares his ambitious vision, not something that could be said of his last bank.
“The growth strategy I decided upon involved buying some of our competitors, which required external funding,” he said.
“Unfortunately my bank at the time would not even meet with me to discuss my plans on the basis that my company was not large enough to warrant a meeting.”
Lloyds TSB Corporate Relationship Manager, David Pope on the other hand, was more than willing to discuss ASK’s plans. And having initially been convinced by a strong business plan, Pope is now delighted to be able to continue to back Keens’ vision on the basis of tangible results.
Pope said: “Gary came to us with the winning combination of ambition backed up by a solid strategy.
“We are delighted to be able to work with him as he and his fellow directors seek to take a UK market leader onto a truly global stage.”