Louis F. Provenzano, Co-founder of Certified Medical Interpreters, LLC and former CEO of Language Line Services was the guest speaker in my Career Management class in December, 2015. Lou speaks 6 languages, has worked in over 10 countries around the world and has successfully started, acquired and sold over a dozen businesses with an aggregate value exceeding $500 million. Many of you are familiar with the two medical certification exams in the U.S. Lou started to organize conferences and other activities in 2007 to push for the certification exams. He was one of the two co-founders of the Certified Medical Interpreters exam that is now administered by the National Board for the Certification of Medical Interpreters. (www.certifiedmedicalinterpreters.org) I was able to take part in this historic movement thanks to his vision.
WH: Lou, thank you for making the time to meet with my students. I bet in all those years that we worked together, you had never thought that you would be speaking to MY students at MIIS.
LP: No, I didn’t. I guess anything is possible in life. (Laugh!)
WH: And I think that just goes to show that career management is not some static end state that we choose upon graduation and it shall remain unchanged. A professional who cares about their growth needs to be ready to make positive changes that they may not have planned. With that in mind, I want to point out to our students that you have had a very successful and varied international career. Please tell us how you started?
LP: Thank you Winnie. My father was active in the student exchange program with Kiwanis in Europe. He and his colleagues observed how European children learn multiple languages and conceived the idea of starting a similar program. I, along with 25 other lucky children, was in an experimental program where we studied Spanish in first grade, added French while keeping Spanish and then added German while keeping Spanish and French. With this program and my higher education, I learned Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Russian. I studied Romance languages and international law in college. My language and business training opened up opportunities in my international career.
WH: That’s fascinating. Now starting a job is one thing, to keep the growth momentum going is another. How do you approach keeping your career growth?
LP: I am not an interpreter by trade, but I understand the importance of bridging language and cultural barriers. I have always been ready to use sound business protocols, my experience and my languages to build relationships. In addition, it is important to have a growth mindset – always learning and growing. I work as if I were looking for a career change every day. And you have to be well-prepared to function this way. I have found that every experience I have seems to be more exciting than the previous one.
WH: The two most “anxiety-inducing” topics for our students are “networking” and “compensation.” If you wouldn’t mind, I would like to focus on those topics for a bit. You are one of the best networkers I know. It will take us a while to get to your level. Please think back on your earliest professional life, what are the approaches that you used at those early stages of your professional life that you think our students can learn from?
LP: In terms of networking, I’d say the more you give, the more you will get. Networking is about contributing. For example, early in my career at Northern Trust, I volunteered to serve in a community outreach program because I am naturally outgoing and gregarious. The unintentional benefit from this volunteer activity is that I made amazing contacts with Board members and community leaders throughout this process. As a young professional, this opportunity also allowed me to hone my presentation and communication skills not the least of which was to develop new business opportunities for the bank!
You also have social media at your disposal. LinkedIn, Twitter and FaceBook are your friends. Use them wisely.
When it comes to compensation, I’d say: “Get over it!” (Laugh!) Do your research. Understand your value and stand behind your value. Start high and have the confidence to believe that you deserve what you are asking for. Salary negotiation is not confrontation. It is an opportunity for both parties to understand their assumptions and positions.
WH: You came into the language industry in the last 15 years after having achieved great success in other industries. Your language skills and your world view have given you the passion and unique perspective on this industry. Where do you see the language industry going and how can the new graduates from MIIS with their unique and excellent education prepare themselves for the test of time?
LP: Our world is becoming smaller and smaller. In today’s world, the ability to exchange goods and services are limited only by the ability to communicate. This makes interpreters essential for the global market. We have seen 10% to 15% annual growth within the language industry per year driven by migration and trade. Spanish speakers are predicted to be the majority in this country in 25 years. All that is to say there are tremendous opportunities for language professionals if you are open-minded and manage your careers diligently. Always look for and acquire the new skills needed in the future market. Getting your degree does not mean the end of your education. To future proof yourself, you need to keep learning. This is something I heard from Winnie: “Interpreters need to read a daily a day, a weekly a week and a monthly a month.”
WH: One of the questions that was raised by our students is this:
“I would like to know what the CEO looks for in an employee when hiring or promoting an employee internally. I’m hoping the answer will be something more concrete than just ‘leadership potential’.”
LP: I believe in performance-based recognition and reward. I look for someone who is creative, goes above and beyond their job description and who acts on the best interest of the company. At the end of the day, the most successful employees are the ones who make concrete and on-going contributions to the organization’s growth.
WH: One of the questions that was raised by our students is this:
“What steps can an employee take to make sure that every one of their jobs are fulfilling and educational?”
LP: Seek out learning opportunities and mentors. Ask for and take feedback. The biggest mistake any professional can make is complacency. Nothing stays the same for long. Always ask yourself: “How can I improve myself?”
WH: Thank you for your generosity in sharing your insights.
LP: My pleasure and best of luck to all of you.
Career & Academic Advisor