What makes a successful entrepreneur?

Gavin Wheeldon speaks no foreign tongues, but his innovative approach to business has seen him establish a very successful translation and interpretation business….

Date of issue: 21/02/07
When it comes to the question of what makes a successful entrepreneur, many experts have pondered whether it is in the person’s genes or the result of their environment? Well, the case of Gavin Wheeldon, CEO of Applied Language Solutions, is certain to further baffle the professionals. In just over three years, Gavin has driven his highly successful translation and interpretation into an international operation with sales of £3.7 million, despite not being able to speak any foreign tongues. What was once a oneman business operating in his back bedroom is now an award-winning company, having been awarded HSBC Start-Up Star Awards in 2006 amongst other prestigious accolades. The company now boasts 60 staff and 6 offices worldwide, including Huddersfield, California, Barcelona, Paris, Bulgaria and Guatemala, and are proud to serve big named brands, such as Robbie William, United Nations and Nike. Applied Language translate all kinds of documents into over 150 languages, from personal birth certificates, simple letters to large technical documents, including whole websites and printed catalogues. The company is the first ever translation company to offer an online tattoo translation service, and has just recently launched an Instant Telephone Interpreting service that is low-cost and can be accessed by anyone, at any time in the world. In March 2007, the company will increase their global presence with the opening of their India and Hong Kong offices, giving the business 24-hour coverage. Further expansion plans include Australia and China later this year and, if the growth rate the company has enjoyed is anything to go by, Gavin will achieve his long-term aim of a whopping £30 million by 2013. Gavin first demonstrated his entrepreneurial talent at the tender age of 12, starting his own window cleaning business in his local area Mossley, Manchester. Gavin laughs: “At the time I was only able to clean bungalows as my dad wouldn’t let me use any ladders!” From there, Gavin realised he could earn some extra pocket money through selling door chains, alarms and spy holes door - to - door fitted at 300% profit. “While my friends were earning £5 a week doing paper rounds or working in local shops, I was able to make a lot more. This was my first taste of running a business and earning a lot of money and I liked it, even at as a young kid.” Gavin said. “At 14 I got ‘real’ job as a telemarketer working evenings and weekends for a local kitchen company, and quickly became the number one salesperson in about a team of 20. I continued this job throughout college, and after realising further education wasn’t for me, I left to sell advertising. Within 18 months I was Sales Manager to a 50strong sales team.” Gavin’s first true taste of entrepreneurship came at the age of 20 when Gavin left his job to establish ‘Government Information Bureau’. With a £5,000 bank loan Gavin employed a research team, including three of the best team members from his previous job, who compiled databases of public sector buyers. This quickly grew to a workforce of 50, before Gavin fell victim to the unpredictable consequences of running a business, and the company came crashing down. “The company went bust after three years because of my mis-management. I was very good at selling and driving the sales force, but not at managing cash flow. I thought if sales are coming in, everything is hunky-dory but that isn’t always the case as I found out! We were winning business and big contracts, but at the same time losing money because of bad debts.” So, once again Gavin returned to what he knew best – selling. This time I it was big ticket IT solutions including eProcurement and CMS, achieving £30m deals, before securing a job at a language business in Leeds. It was here that Gavin’s entrepreunerial eye for opportunities and innovation really came into play. He realised that no-one in the translation industry were capitalising on the opportunities offered by technology in terms of business

generation and working practice for lowering costs, and very few that used or understood how technology could improve the translation industry. So, to satisfy his entrepreneurial yearning, Gavin again took the plunge back into business for himself. Using the grand investment of a final wage, he launched Applied Language Solutions in October 2003 from his back bedroom with principal aim being to use technology to provide quicker, cheaper and improved quality translation services. This is essentially where the company’s competitive edge lies today. As Gavin explains “The translation industry is very much a trade whose roots were in academia not commerce. I saw the gap in the market to totally transform the processes involved in both business generation and delivery with the use of the internet to meet the challenge of today’s modern world, and grabbed it with both hands.” “My first deal was translating a birth certificate for someone getting married in Greece for £40. Our first big contract worth £22,000 was in the second month of operation and involved translating all of Hewlett Packards’ European Sales material.” The second eldest child of four, Gavin grew up with his siblings in various parts of the world as his coalminer father took jobs in Canada, Namibia and other places, before finally settling in Greater Manchester. An exception to the gene pool, Gavin is the only person in his family to ever establish not one just the one, but a range of businesses from scratch. There is no doubt that Gavin was born ready for business, so where does his entrepreneurial spirit come from? Gavin believes it is his personality traits that define his entrepreneurial talent. Typically characteristic amongst successful entrepreneurs, Gavin describes himself as “tenacious, decisive and competitive with a strong motivation to achieve. I am a strong leader with a passion and drive that pushes other people in my team to strive for bigger things, but at the same time I’m not scared of sheer hard work myself.” “Despite not finishing college, I possess a constant thirst for knowledge and self improvement, and am always proactive in looking for ideas and innovative ways to develop myself, the business and my team.” However, perhaps the most important characteristic of all is not fearing failure. Despite Gavin’s first disastrous attempt at business, this failure in no way deterred him from trying again: “I’m one of life’s greatest risk takers! Growing up, I was renowned for my rebellious and daring streak, with many an injury and scar to prove it. However, I learn quickly from my mistakes and falling from a tree wouldn’t stop me from climbing them, I’d just do it in a different way. It’s the same in business” “Just like I mastered a well-thought out climbing method as a kid, I’ve driven Applied Language Solutions successfully forward, but at the same time learning influential lessons from the earlier days also made it very stable. When you’ve hurt yourself once, you soon realise that calculated risks have the greatest advantage!” The risk has certainly paid off for Gavin. His word of wisdom to other budding entrepreneurs: “Starting my own business has changed my life. I actually get up in the morning looking forward to coming to work. If you have a product or service that you truly believe in, then go for it. It will be a lot of hard work but determination will see you through to a successful ending.”
Applied Language Solutions translate all kinds of documents from simple letters to large technical documents, including whole websites and printed catalogues, for specialist Medical, Legal, Financial and Marketing organisations. The company is committed to using only professional in-country translators and interpreters, of whom they have over 6,000 on their books. These translators work in over 150 languages including all the major European, Asian, African, Middle Eastern and American languages. Applied Language Solutions now have eight offices world wide: Huddersfield, California, Paris, Barcelona, Sofia, Guatemala City, Hong Kong and India, and are proud to be the winners of HSBC Start-Up Star Awards 2006. For a FREE quote visit www.appliedlanguage.com or call +44 (0)870 172 0000 in the UK or +1 (800) 579 5010 in the US to talk to one of the team.


For press and media enquiries please call:
Stacey Rose – PR Executive on +44 (0)870 225 0243 or email srose@appliedlanguage.com Applied Language Solutions High quality language solutions delivered on time …with a smile! www.appliedlanguage.com Yorkshire Office Park, Armitage Bridge, Huddersfield HD4 7NR. UK. Tel (UK): +44 (0)870 172 0000 Tel (US): +1 (800) 579-5010