Big Language Solutions (BIG) has acquired Language Link, the latest in a series of deals that sees BIG executing on its buy-and-build strategy. It follows the acquisition of US healthcare specialist ISI in September 2020 and language service provider Protranslating in June 2019.
Jeff Brink, CEO of BIG, said the deal closed on April 30, 2021. He told Slator, “We expect combined revenues of BIG Language companies to exceed USD 75m for 2021. There is a chance we can finish the year north of USD 90m with additional acquisitions.”
Language Link, formerly known as Corporate Translation Services or CTS, was wholly owned by CEO Jeff Barger, who founded the language service provider (LSP) in 1991.
The Vancouver-based LSP was the only Leader to make it to the fastest-growing list in the Slator 2021 LSPI. Revenues were up more than 55% in 2020 to USD 27.5m, nudging the company up from Challenger to Leader. Core services include interpreting — notably over the phone (OPI) and video remote (VRI), which were high-growth niches during the Covid-19 lockdowns. (Brink declined to discuss purchase price.)
Brink said CEO Barger will stay on in an advisory role, while COO Dan Nelson has already been promoted to President. He added, “For the foreseeable future, all companies in the BIG portfolio will continue to operate under their existing brand names, but also co-branded as ‘a BIG Language company.’”
Therefore, Language Link will continue to trade independently, with BIG adding value by “investing heavily” on people, technology, and other growth initiatives, Brink said.
“This acquisition also accelerates our regulated industry expansion strategy.” — Jeff Brink, CEO, BIG
Language Link has 120 full-time employees, comprising executive, operations, and linguist roles, as well as call center staff. Brink noted how “a large portion of the staff is highly tenured and has been with the company for several years. The culture they have built over time has a lot to do with the company’s success and was a big factor in our decision to move forward with this acquisition.”
Moreover, Brink called Language Link’s customer loyalty “remarkable” as the majority of its original clients from over 25 years ago have retained the company as their primary LSP.
Flying to Hawaii
Brink said he first approached Barger (“who I had known for many years”) in late 2018: “We immediately hit it off and began deal discussions. These were early days of BIG’s formation, and we viewed Language Link as the ideal OPI platform company and superb complement to Protranslating, our translation platform LSP. It turned out the timing was not right, and we mutually agreed to hit the pause button for a year or so.”
When discussions resumed, Brink saw “the cultural and strategic fit was even better than expected, so we fast-tracked due diligence.” However, Barger decided to hit pause again in early April because, as Brink put it, “letting your baby go is not easy.”
“The next day [CFO] Dave Perlman and I flew to their vacation home in Hawaii,” Brink told Slator. “We spent three full days together and got the deal back on track.”
According to Brink, Jeff Barger later said: “I was so impressed by your tenacity, honesty, and desire to get this deal done. You knew joining forces was in our best interests and weren’t leaving the island without a renewed commitment. This is exactly what I would have done! Now the trust level between us is off the charts and our families have become good friends.”
Brink said there were no other brokers on the deal.
Asked how the addition of an OPI platform plays into BIG’s portfolio and strategy, Brink replied, “This is a big, transformational deal for us. It elevates BIG to an elite group of full-service LSPs that generate at least USD 25m in revenues from both translation and interpreting services. This acquisition also accelerates our regulated industry expansion strategy.”
There was “very little” client overlap, Brink said, between Language Link and the rest of the BIG organization. He described Language Link as “heavy in OPI for regulated industries such as healthcare and government, but also a leader in US election work.”
And the tech Language Link uses? “A proprietary technology built over 15 years,” covering interpreting and translation services and that streamlines request and delivery across vendors, clients, and staff via customized portals.
As for what’s in store for BIG for the rest of 2021, Brink said it includes “more strategic acquisitions, expansion in Europe, and rolling out our proprietary end-to-end secure technology platform.”