(Left) Marina Ilari, CEO and Colleen Beres, Chief Strategy Officer; Photo by Boutique Photographer Linda Smallpage
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Twenty years ago, Marina Ilari and her mother founded Terra Translations, hiring just a few family and friends. Today, Ilari and her mother have grown the translation services company to over 170 employees, translating into 30 languages across the globe. Colleen Beres joined the company in 2018 as a member of the business development team. “I was inspired by Terra’s incredible history, the strong corporate culture, and the vision Marina had for the company’s future,” Beres says. “Marina granted me the autonomy to follow my gut and explore.” Over four years, Beres rose to become the company’s chief strategy officer, a position she took over in July. “The work that we do is essentially helping people,” Ilari says. “Whether we do this by providing language access to certain communities, or by helping businesses expand internationally, we are helping people communicate better and connect.”
“Share and celebrate your uniqueness.”
Marina, how did you first start Terra Translations?
WED: Both my mother and I are translators and were the founding members of Terra Translations twenty years ago. The company began as a family business. Our first few hires were within our circle of family and friends. As we grew, we quickly began realizing we needed expert help, particularly in the human resource department. Having a solid HR team from an early stage allowed us to grow sustainably by finding (and retaining) the right talent. We have now grown to have 170 employees and we collaborate with over 1000 freelancers around the world.
Colleen, how did you first get involved with Terra Translations?
CB: It was serendipity. At the time, my family and I had recently relocated back to my hometown of Waukesha after 15 years in Chicago. I was a new mother and I found myself seriously considering a variety of different professional paths when a mutual acquaintance connected me with Marina thinking that there might be room for us to work together. My professional background was diverse, but it had nothing to do with the translation industry, so I was hopeful to make a new friend and anything else would be a bonus. We met for coffee at Le Reve in Wauwatosa and we just clicked, both personally and professionally. I was inspired by Terra’s incredible history, the strong corporate culture, and the vision Marina had for the company’s future. I wanted to be a part of Terra’s success story; I felt like I could make an impact.
What do you both find most rewarding about your work?
WED: What I find most rewarding about my work is that the work that we do is essentially helping people. Whether we do this by providing language access to certain communities, or by helping businesses expand internationally, we are helping people communicate better and connect.
CB: The support, both internally within our team and externally with our incredible clients. It feels good to work at Terra and to work with Terra because of the generous and selfless spirit of our team. Authenticity is vital when establishing new relationships and to know that my colleagues have my back makes me want to work harder. Additionally, we have relationships with clients that feel almost magical – that moment when we know they consider us to be a part of their success, that’s when you can really feel fulfilled by the work you’re doing every day.
What advice do you have for women who want to start their own businesses?
WED: My advice for women who want to start their own business is to find and foster a community of peers. I have found that the key to a successful entrepreneur lies in how well you cultivate and nurture your professional network. When you are first starting out as a business owner you need companionship and the opportunity to learn from more experienced business owners. An additional piece of advice would be to leverage your uniqueness. When I first started out, I thought “fitting in” with what other companies were doing would be a safer way to promote my business. But through the years I started realizing that you shouldn’t follow or replicate other companies’ strengths. You need to look internally to find your unique selling proposition. There has never been nor will there ever be another person exactly like you, and this uniqueness – your talents, thoughts, beliefs, ideas and values - cannot be duplicated.
This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s November issue.
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