Ownership of Sandberg Translation Partners is now in the hands of its employees — more than 100 of them.
The UK-based language service provider (LSP) was previously owned by sole shareholders Jesper Sandberg and Anu Carnegie-Brown, and became an employee-owned trust (EOT) in May 2023.
Sandberg is a Nordic language specialist that works for hundreds of other LSPs around the world. Focusing on this niche, the company has grown to revenues of GBP 7.3m (USD 8.8m) in 2022 and a staff size of ca. 120.
Although EOTs are not the most conventional exit path for LSP owners, they are a viable option for business owners in the UK (as well as the US) and have been growing in popularity since the UK government introduced the scheme in 2014.
Sandberg’s Executive Chairman, Jesper Sandberg, told Slator a holding company (STP Group) owns the trading company (Sandberg Translation Company Ltd), which also owns Sandberg’s Bulgarian subsidiary. The new EOT now owns 100% of the shares in the holding company.
The holding company “doesn’t really serve any purpose now [but] it was set up in the past when we had intentions of acquiring other LSPs outside the UK,” he said.
A Lesson in Succession
Formulating an exit plan usually takes a significant amount of time, whichever route one pursues. Sandberg said he has “spent the last ten years trying to prepare for my eventual retirement and during that time have considered it my duty to thoroughly investigate all options.”
He added, “While we’ve had plenty of PE interest over the years and had a pretty decent offer at one stage, we’ve been drawn to this [EOT] solution because of how much control it gives us while gradually reducing our working hours over several years and eventually retiring. Of course, the tax incentive offered by the UK government also helps.”
According to Sandberg, “Our business model has meant that there would only ever be a fairly small likelihood of attracting PE investment or a bigger MLV buying us. That left me to consider a management buyout and now finally the EOT solution, which I think is perfect for us.”
Discussing the company’s new future as an EOT, Sandberg said he expects upsides in the areas of employee recruitment, retention, motivation, performance, job satisfaction, as well as being able to recognize employees’ commitment in “both financial and non-financial ways.”
Sandberg also had this tip for other business owners considering a sale: “Take their good time to prepare their business for a sale and carefully consider all possibilities. After all, it’s probably the biggest financial transaction of their life.” He also recommended engaging expert consultants to run the process and said he was advised by Baxendale Employee Ownership.
An Industry Beyond Recognition
Like numerous current LSP CEOs and owners, Sandberg started out in the 1990s as a translator. He has witnessed the evolution of translation technology and the maturing of the language industry first-hand over three decades.
On the topic of technology, Sandberg said “the words ‘beyond recognition’ spring to mind” when comparing the productivity tools of the time (e.g., Trados version 1) with “the incredibly complex software environments that today’s translators have to master.”
Moreover, the advent of “free, decent machine translation for general communication purposes” has to be “one of the greatest things achieved within our sector,” he observed.
Meanwhile, Sandberg said the language services industry is now “quite ‘mature’ in commercial terms” with “more people making a living in our sector than was the case 30 years ago.”
Sandberg has been gradually reducing his working hours in recent years (for which he credits MD Carnegie-Brown’s leadership and business management), down to one day a week on average. He plans to continue as Executive Chairman “for a good few years still, working on high-level aspects of the business and serving as a brand ambassador at industry events.”