23 September 1937 – 18 May 2016
The language industry is a landscape of professionals spanning continents and cultures. We are as different as the hundreds of locales from which we operate. However, we share a bond and common cause to enhance global communication. We partner, learn, and advance together.
When an industry leader passes on—particularly one who touched so many lives and devoted so much of himself for the good of the industry—we feel the loss.
William ‘Bill’ Graeper, a founding member of the Association of Language Companies (ALC) and owner of Certified Languages International (CLI) leaves behind a legacy as one of the industry’s most ardent and enthusiastic members and activists. A humble and charismatic husband and father from Oregon (USA), Bill spent decades working to better our industry and the companies that are part of it.
Through this article we would like to recognize Bill’s impact and legacy on the language industry specifically. We sincerely thank his family for allowing us to share these words that represent just a small portion of his immense impact in countless different arenas.
Collaborative Visionary and Leader
Bill was a self-described “cheerleader” for the localization industry, and more particularly for collaboration among language professionals, companies, and associations.
“He loved it when people worked together,” said Susan Amarino, Owner of Liaison Multilingual. “If I had to say one sentence about Bill, that would be it.” His top driver was to establish ways for language professionals to collaborate and learn with each other. Keeping in line with this collaborative mindset, Bill was instrumental in the formation of ALC.
“I first met Bill 16 years ago,” recalls Georgia Roeming, Owner of The Geo Group and an ALC founding member. “He burst into a room of eight other language company owners and said ‘We are starting an association!’ And we did.”
Prior to the launch of ALC in 2000, the ALC founding members were active within a committee subdivision in the American Translators Association (ATA) called the Translation Company Division (TCD). “ATA is an organization that oozes with talent and professionalism, particularly for translators,” said Roeming. “However, we needed support and guidance that was directed towards our unique needs as language companies.”
Bill heard the cry of his fellow language companies and saw an opportunity for collaboration. He arranged a meeting with eight other TCD members during an ATA conference. During this meeting, he pitched his idea to start an association specifically addressing the needs of American language companies.
“Bill was electric,” said Roeming remembering that day. With excitement, the small group of company owners agreed to support the initiative and launch the association. The work was divided evenly among the nine founding members. However, Roeming notes that, “Bill was the linchpin that we all pivoted around. He was the fire. He laid out deadlines and followed up to make sure we were staying on target.”
As ALC began to take shape, Roeming remembers the aim was clear—to help language companies become better businesses. Bill wanted language companies to be business-oriented. He wanted to provide resources to teach companies how to do their taxes and accounting, how to pay bills on time, how to improve the sales cycle, and how to grow.
Bill practiced what he preached. He founded and profitably operated CLI—a leader in the interpreting space—for decades, all while grooming his daughter Kristin to take the helm and guide the company after him. Bill’s first-hand experience as an entrepreneur and business owner allowed him to help others in the industry walk the same path. He was eager to share what he had learned.
Sandy Dupleich, a Partner at Dynamic Language and former president of ALC, remembers the first ALC conference in 2001 that took place in Portland. “Bill was a force of nature. He was all over the place—laughing, smiling, being very open about his company operations and revenues. I had been in the industry since 1986 but this was the first time I truly felt I was among my peers.”
Bill devoted himself to progressing the association, serving on multiple ALC committees, on the Board of Directors, sponsoring conferences, and visiting member companies.
“ALC was like his fourth child,” said Amarino. “He truly believed in the association.”
Beyond his role in establishing the association, Bill was engaged with the members on an individual level. “Bill was completely selfless with his time and resources,” said Dupleich. “If someone was having a problem he was always there to help, often jumping on an airplane to meet with them face-to-face. That is really unheard of in this day and age for someone to have the character to share their knowledge freely. The companies he was helping could easily become competitors of his own agency, but that is not how Bill saw it. When any of us grow, the industry grows. That was his ardent belief.”
Bill saw early on, and promoted throughout his career, that professionals and companies in the language industry would be better off if they worked collaboratively. When best practices are shared, it increases the growth potential and professionalism of all. Bill strove to break down barriers and streamline channels of collaboration.
“That will be his legacy,” said Dupleich. “Not just the work he did, but him having shared his unselfish spirit with all of us. To encourage all of us to share and help each other and mature as an industry.”
Ardent Advocate for Language Companies
In addition to his tireless efforts with ALC, Bill played a critical advocacy and training role in championing the rights of language agencies in the United States during ongoing worker classification debates. Several years ago, state governments and federal agencies began targeting language companies and requiring that subcontractors (mainly freelance translators) be treated as employees for tax purposes. Since that time, many language companies in the United States have undergone arduous audits to prove their compliance with state and federal laws. Even up to the week before Bill passed away, he was providing training to help companies pass the audits and working on advocacy campaigns against these mandates.
“Unless your business was set up this way initially it is almost impossible to absorb the extra costs this model requires. To do so can even put you out of business,” said Dupleich. “Bill was constantly advocating on behalf of the industry to fight these measures.”
Bill was not afraid to go into politics to push for the fair treatment of language companies. “Bill showed us that it was possible,” said Roeming. “He went to the state of Oregon and fought hard to change an employee-contractor law, and he won. That is impressive! He showed us that even as a small business owner, you can still make a difference. You can make politicians hear you, and you can change policies.”
“Bill was like a prophet in the wilderness on this topic,” said Bill Rivers, Executive Director at the Joint National Committee for Languages. “He was a company owner from Oregon, bouncing around the country and through the halls of power in Washington D.C., talking about a really arcane tax issue. And people were listening.”
Rivers described Bill’s pivotal role in preparing the industry to respond to the problematic classification issue. “How do we position ourselves as an industry? How do we get through this? How do you survive an audit? Bill was the thought leader on all of this,” said Rivers.
The classification debates continue, but Bill’s efforts and trainings to protect language companies will continue to be utilized going forward. “He laid tremendous groundwork,” said Rivers.
In addition, Bill was actively involved in ASTM F43 standards discussions. “When we were trying to establish ourselves and draft our first ASTM document, we were having trouble gathering consensus,” said Amarino. “I called Bill and he flew out and helped us present the vision so that all the stakeholders would understand the purpose for our efforts. He could always bring people together.”
Furthermore, Bill wanted political figures and business leaders to see the technology-heavy aspects of the language industry. “Bill came a number of times to D.C. to go to different political meetings and to the White House to raise awareness of the cutting-edge technology practices in the language industry,” said Rivers. “There is a popular misconception that translators are still the monk at the scriptorium, writing long hand on a legal pad. Bill was key in raising awareness about the advancements in the industry and showcasing the importance of translation and localization for global business.”
Kind to the Core
Bill will be remembered for his many achievements as a businessman, an advocate for LSCs, and a champion of language standards. His many industry colleagues also laud him for his kindness and sincerity. He treated everyone around him with civility and respect, while running a successful company.
“Bill gave you permission to enjoy life and work hard. You can do both,” said Dupleich. “Bill’s life was so rich and varied. He made friends and connections wherever he went, in all aspects of his life. If we could all take that to heart, we would have a much better world.”
“I don’t think in all my 59 years on earth that I have met somebody who just lit up the room in the same way Bill did,” said Roeming. “He reached out to people without even saying anything! Who has the power to do that?!”
“Bill was amazingly dynamic,” said Rivers. “He had a huge influence on the industry and I think he will for a long time.”
“Passionate, loyal, enthusiastic. I’ve never met anyone like Bill in my life, ever,” said Amarino. “If I said I needed help with something, Bill would be on the next flight. No questions asked. I miss him dearly, but he continues to teach me even after he has gone.”
It is with fondness and gratitude that we remember Bill, the life he chose to lead, and the remarkable impact he had on our industry.
Thank you Bill.
Special Thanks to the Following Individuals Who Contributed to this Memoriam:
Kristin Graeper Quinlan, CEO, Certified Languages International
Susan Amarino, Owner, Liaison MultiLingual
Sandy Dupleich, Partner, Dynamic Language
Bill Rivers, Executive Director, Joint National Committee for Languages
Georgia Roeming, Owner, The Geo Group