scorecardHow to make your company an 'employer of choice,' according to a millionaire cofounder of TransPerfect
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How to make your company an 'employer of choice,' according to a millionaire cofounder of TransPerfect

Jennifer Ortakales Dawkins   

How to make your company an 'employer of choice,' according to a millionaire cofounder of TransPerfect
Careers3 min read

  • Liz Elting cofounded the global translation firm TransPerfect in 1992 and was co-CEO for 26 years.
  • One of her goals was to make her company an employer of choice in the industry.
  • She said culture, training, and incentives are key to retaining employees.

When Liz Elting was building her company, one of her priorities was to create a culture and work environment that encouraged her employees to stay.

Her goal was to make "our company an employer of choice in our industry and ideally in any industry," she told Insider.

Elting cofounded the global translation company TransPerfect in 1992 while earning her MBA at New York University. She served as co-CEO for 26 years and is one of America's richest self-made women, with a net worth of $370 million, according to Forbes. In 2018, she sold her company shares for $385 million to her cofounder, Phil Shawe. Last year, the company reported $1.11 billion in revenue.

For Elting, company culture and incentives were critical for retaining its 5,000 employees. "If you have employees that don't want to leave, that's the key and the hard part," she said.

Here's how she used training, offered commissions, and set expectations to lengthen employee tenure.

Continue learning opportunities

Once a company hires employees, it's important to retain them by investing in their development and education, Elting said. For example, TransPerfect held annual conferences for the sales and production departments. These conferences taught sales, production, and technology training; provided networking opportunities; and included motivational speakers from outside of the company.

"You need to have the best training out there," she said. "Everybody we hired in sales had to train for a month in production first."

Elting continued learning about what her staff needed and wanted by "getting lots of feedback from employees," then "when something's not going right, changing it," she said.

Incentivize high performance

When Elting was leading TransPerfect, the company had a large sales team and paid staff commissions and incentives when they hit their goals. In her experience, it helped motivate employees.

"If they weren't good salespeople, they make less than they would at another company," she said. "But if they're great salespeople, they make more."

Elting advises founders to pay employees based on the success of their companies. "So if the employee's department is profitable, they get some of the upside," she said.

TransPerfect also had perks like a "Platinum Club" for top salespeople, gave awards every summer and holiday season, and offered phantom stock, which is a benefit program that grants stock payouts without actual stock ownership.

"Meritocracy is really important, because that makes people not want to leave," Elting said.

To be sure, the idea that people should be rewarded for their achievements has faced backlash in recent years. Experts like the Yale Law professor Daniel Markovits and the author Adrian Wooldridge, who have researched the topic, say meritocracy has widened America's inequality gap.

Encourage work-life balance

While Elting expected her employees to work hard, she also encouraged them to set boundaries and prioritize their lives outside of work. She made it clear to employees that their jobs weren't about the hours they logged, but the results they generated.

"I used to say to all employees, 'Be intense during the day, so you can get out of here at a reasonable hour,'" she said. "They generate revenue and profit and they are rewarded for it, and still making sure they have time for their personal lives."

Establishing a culture that encourages work-life balance starts with the founders and leaders of a company. Bosses who have healthy boundaries set an example for employees, she said.

"They're not going to want your job if you're on email 24/7 and through the weekend," she said. "Compartmentalization is very important."