Article by Sarah Hickey.
While we are still working hard to compile this year’s edition of the Nimdzi 100 — the ranking of the largest language service providers (LSPs) in the world — we can already say that there is movement at the top.
After the language services industry once again proved to be impervious to crises and continued to grow in 2020, early indicators point toward a very prosperous 2021. For one thing, the language industry now has its first billion dollar company. Long-time industry leader TransPerfect just revealed that the company reached USD 1.1 billion in revenue in 2021. This is up from USD 852.4 million in 2020 and an increase of more than 30 percent year-over-year. Especially for a company of this size and during times that saw the world economy suffer, this is an impressive level of growth. Asked about it directly, TransPerfect’s CEO, Phil Shawe said:
In last year’s Nimdzi 100, we reported that RWS became the new de facto leader in the industry after its acquisition of former rival SDL. Back then, in March 2021, the combined 2020 revenues of RWS and SDL stood at USD 937.5 million and outperformed TransPerfect by USD 85.1 million, which indicated a shift in leadership at the top. However, TransPerfect made a strong comeback and solidified its position as the largest LSP in the world once again.
Given the acquisition of former rival SDL, which propelled RWS to the top, the company was expected to reach the billion dollar mark in 2021. However, the newly combined company only grew by a little less than two percent in 2021, reaching USD 955.3 million. A possible explanation could be a focus on aligning company efforts after the mega acquisition and a change in leadership — in June 2021, RWS announced the appointment of a new Group CEO, Ian El-Mokadem, who replaced former CEO Richard Thompson. One way or another, we can expect RWS to take the second position in our ranking this year.
What the graph also shows is by how much the two largest positions in the industry have grown in only five years. Between 2017 and 2021, the number one position in the language industry (consistently held by TransPerfect) grew by more than 80% and the second position (previously Lionbridge, now RWS) grew by close to 60%.
It still remains to be seen who will be the third largest LSP this year. Judging by what we know at this point, the position will most likely be filled either by Lionbridge or LanguageLine Solutions. LanguageLine Solutions is focused on remote interpreting and has been growing significantly since the start of the pandemic. The company reached USD 618 million in 2020.
Lionbridge, another household name in the market, held the position as the second largest language service provider for many years. In 2020, the company sold its AI division — Lionbridge AI — to TELUS International, a digital customer experience company from Canada. The deal went through for approximately USD 935 million (CAD 1.2 billion). Despite the sale, Lionbridge is not leaving this lucrative field altogether but will rather focus its AI efforts exclusively on language services (namely, on neural machine translation).
While the research for our market analysis is still ongoing, what we can already reveal is that it is looking like 2021 was a great year for language services. In research briefings to date, 9 out of 10 LSPs reported record growth and some businesses even had the best year since their founding. Asked about the drivers behind this level of growth, the following themes stood out:
Although this is just a snapshot of the industry at this stage, it is looking like the market may have outperformed growth expectations in 2021.
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