Lukáš Utíkal reflects on
20 years of České překlady

Although our 20th anniversary on the market officially falls on 4 February, we’ve felt festive all month long.

As we celebrate this significant milestone, we have interviewed both of our co-owners. We published an interview with Václav Baláček last week, and now it’s time for Lukáš Utíkal to share his thoughts on the anniversary with us. 


Lukáš, how has the company evolved during these two decades, and what events do you consider to be the most important?

Vašek and I started as two translators in a tiny office in Olomouc, and 20 years later, České překlady has over 20 employees. A major milestone in our journey was the opening of our Prague office in 2008. A number of things have changed – we implemented a CRM system, we set up a strong sales team, we targeted big clients, we improved our marketing and promotion… and we have become a leading translation service provider.

Our Prague office has become the most important hub in terms of implementation, as it now houses practically the entire project management team. In Olomouc, where our story originally began, we now focus on sales and marketing in particular.


What has your greatest success been so far, and what do you see as your biggest challenge?

I am especially happy that we have managed to maintain a stable work team. Some of our colleagues have been with us for more than a decade, and we definitely do not take this for granted; so perhaps that says something. I’d like to think it’s also a result of the atmosphere we’ve created and the company culture we’re trying to build.


What is it like to run a business together as two co-owners?

I have heard several times that companies should ideally have an odd number of owners, and that three is too many… (laughs). 

Of course, I do see many examples around me of joint ventures completely failing. I must say, however, that so far the two of us have always managed to navigate through the pitfalls of joint decision-making with elegance. It’s not that we always agree on everything, but neither of us seems to feel the need to always insist on our own way of seeing things. We usually bring up a topic, each of us gives his opinion, and we think things over before we move forward with it.


What I appreciate most about Vašek is his insight and his ability to see things within a broader context. I sometimes lack composure, and I tend to deal with things more emotionally… so I guess we complement each other well.


How would you characterize České překlady in one word or phrase?

What instantly comes to my mind is quality and reliability. I dare say that these are our traditional values. Lately, I’ve also been noticing more and more our ability to understand the individual needs of our clients and offer tailored solutions. I perceive this as our strength.


What do you see as the biggest challenge in the coming years?

AI and its application have recently become a huge topic in our industry. This of course also affects translation agencies. We realize that, just like machine translation in the past, we will need to implement AI into our processes and offer attractive products at affordable prices. We are doing everything we can to make sure we don’t miss out on any opportunities.


Do you think AI could completely replace translators in the future?

If we’re talking about commercial translations, which is what most language service providers like us do, I’m afraid that this is already happening. In 2016, Google introduced neural machine translation, thanks to which machine translation engines improved dramatically. As a consequence, we translators needed to train as proofreaders virtually overnight. I do not really consider myself a translator in the strict sense of the word anymore. But I do not think that AI will steal translation jobs as such – our roles have changed and will continue to change as we adapt to the new setup.


Where will you steer České překlady in the next 20 years? What are your goals?

Our main ambition is to keep momentum in the business in these turbulent times and to adapt to the rapid development of technology and changing market demands. We will most likely see very dramatic changes in the next year or two. But I firmly believe that České překlady will rise to the challenges. I don’t dare to try to predict what the next 10 or 20 years will bring.


What advice would you give to aspiring translators?

I would probably tell them to think it through very carefully – to consider whether they really want to become translators or whether their linguistic skills might be put to better use elsewhere. The work of a commercial translator is monotonous and boring, to put it bluntly. And as they become more specialized, their day-to-day routine may be even more repetitive.

If they decide to become translators and want to work with a language service provider, I would advise them to be helpful in their communication and diligent in their work. If you work with main language combinations and have no real specialization, you will be a drop in the ocean of potential candidates, so not answering the phone, not responding to written communication, or delivering your translations late or full of errors will not help your business. 


If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of business advice, what would it be?

When I look at where we are, I think we did quite well. On the other hand, not everything was a success. For example, our idea of providing comprehensive language services rather held us back – in Olomouc, we tried to run a language school for quite some time, but when I look back, it was rather a period of stagnation and a fight for survival. We were not ready to admit that teaching was a marginal activity for us. We lacked both the passion and the know-how. The takeaway is that unless you really dedicate yourself to something, you can hardly succeed at it.

In the translation business, we also tried to establish ourselves as a partner for large international language service providers (LSPs) for several years, but this effort did not lead anywhere in the long term. It turned out that our in-house processes and the basic principles we cherished were incompatible with the way the global market players operate. Their low expectations regarding quality, their lack of interest in reaching beyond the established processes, and the huge administrative burden of every job, no matter its size, were very sobering for us. Our expectation that we would be closer to what was happening at the core of the industry was not fulfilled either. So the second piece of advice would be to not hold onto something that clearly doesn’t work.


What is your typical working day like?

Everything’s good now (laughs). In the past, I could easily spend ten hours a day translating, including evenings and weekends. Although I still actively translate, my working week, measured by the number of hours I work, is definitely shorter than it used to be. My day-to-day routine also includes other activities related to the management of the company. As a court interpreter, I also occasionally interpret for public authorities. I am also a member of the local council in my town.


Thanks a lot for the interview!



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