Monique Rivas: Shedding Light on Translation

By Michael Schubert

Monique Rivas is the CEO of NCTA corporate member LUZ, Inc., a global translation services company with headquarters in San Francisco and a production facility in Buenos Aires. Along with partner Sanford Wright, Monique co-founded the company in 1994, when both individuals saw an opportunity to fill a need that was not being met by the marketplace: namely, providing comprehensive translation support for large-scale projects in the life science industries. “Luz” means “light” in Spanish, and it symbolizes the founders’ desire to create a transparent approach to translation service offerings.

Did you grow up bilingually?
Monique Rivas: I am a third-generation Mexican-American and grew up speaking both Spanish and English. But a foreign language can get quite diluted by the time it makes its way down to the third generation, so I did see a need for advanced language studies. I earned a degree in Diplomacy and World Affairs from Occidental College (in Los Angeles, near Pasadena) with a minor in Spanish.

Describe LUZ: type of business, areas of specialization, number of employees …
LUZ translates into about 35 languages—about 80 to 90 percent of our business is from English—with an exclusive focus on life science industries, specifically medical devices, diagnostics, and pharmaceuticals. Since most of our clients are affected by the European Union’s regulations, we have seen increased activity in Eastern and Central European languages. These clients must have their materials translated into the new EU languages; this is no longer a voluntary marketing decision but a necessity for compliance with the In-Vitro Diagnostic Directive and Medical Device Directive. Our market is a highly regulated industry.

To handle this, we have 25 full-time employees and work with 1,500 to 2,000 freelance translators, depending on the workload. Our focus of large-scale medical devices can generate quite a bit of volume. Our San Francisco office handles sales, while the Buenos Aires office focuses on production—translation and desktop publishing.

Is there an advantage to being located in the Bay Area?
Yes! Sanford and I considered the Bay Area to be the ideal place for our business, both because of the biotech centers here and for the proximity to leading universities. We do much of our recruiting at the Monterey Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, and the University of California, San Francisco.

Will the new stem cell research center to open in San Francisco be a boon to your business?
That is still to be determined. Research and development industries have less of a need for translations; most of our business is generated from the tried-and-true industries. The stem cell research center could be helpful as a resource or recruiting center, however.

Has it been your experience that most of your clients understand the importance of quality translation and budget accordingly, or do you have to engage in a lot of client education?
Since we provide services to highly regulated industries, our clients inherently buy quality at two levels: the translation work product and, equally important, consistency of internal production/QA.

Which industry-specific software do you use in-house?
For translation memory, we use TRADOS and SDLX. For Web globalization, we use Idiom’s WorldServer. We have also developed an internal translation management system called Aurora, as well as a suite of TM automation tools.

How has the Internet changed the translation business?
The Internet has changed the business in two ways: Linguists have become more technologically savvy, and the Internet has allowed pharmaceutical companies to expand their business, which in turn has expanded ours.

How do you see your business in five years?
We want to be the industry-recognized number-one provider of life science translations and the best place to work in the industry. Every quarter we measure how much closer we are to that goal.