Lithuanian businesswoman JURGA ZILINSKIENE has been awarded an MBE in the recent December awards ceremony. Jurga is a British Lithuanian entrepreneur and software coder. She is the CEO of Guildhawk, the international precision language services company founded in 2001 and headquartered in the City of London. Her Majesty the Queen has recognized Lithuanian with an MBE for her services to International Trade. MBE refers to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and is an honour awarded by the Queen to recognize contributions to arts and science, charity, welfare, and public services.
This is Zilinskiene’s second trip to Buckingham Palace this year, having attended back in July to receive a Queen’s Award on behalf of her company Guildhawk, also for International Trade.
Zilinskiene has been working to facilitate international trade for UK business for the best part of two decades since the founding of her company back in 2001. This work has seen her lead trade missions to Lithuania, organize US trade missions to the UK, and, most recently, work with Be the Business to encourage the UK’s most influential companies to expand internationally and increase productivity. Her company, Guildhawk, helps businesses go global, providing everything from lease abstraction for international retail premises and complex technical translation for the media industry to market advice and consultancy.
Earlier this year, she also provided her recommendations to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for how his government could help foster the growth and expansion of privately held companies – the lifeblood of the UK economy.
Commenting on the honour, Jurga Zilinskiene said: “The fact that the Guildhawk team was recognised for our work in boosting international trade was fantastic; to have also been honoured for my own work in this area is exciting beyond belief! This combination of awards shows just how important international trade is for the UK now and going forward. And I promise Guildhawk and I will continue to do our very best to use our expertise to encourage international growth and expansion for UK business".
Jurga is the first Lithuanian person to be honoured with the award by Her Majesty the Queen. She said that it allows her to follow in the footsteps of Sir Montague Burton, a Lithuanian Jew who fled the proliferating anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia, emigrated to England to build one of the biggest clothing chains in Europe and was knighted for Services to Industrial Relations. “Given this history, it is difficult to put into words how proud and pleased I am to receive this particular honour. I have previously written about Burton as a model of the type of business person I want to be, so receiving the MBE seems a perfect end to an incredible year, and our first six months under the Guildhawk name; a reinforcement that I – we – are on the right path entirely”, she said.
Jurga spoke to Londoniete’s founder and editor Dovile Ileviciute, revealing secrets to her continued success:
Jurga, what an excellent end to a memorable year! Congratulations on being awarded an MBE. Earlier this year Guildhawk also received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, in the International Trade category. Did these awards come totally as a surprise to you?
Thank you! This is like a dream! I’ve known for a long time that my team was of a quality that merited the award, but you never quite think these things will actually happen. It is such an honour to be recognized by Her Majesty the Queen. And one that the Guildhawk team thoroughly deserved the Queen’s Award for Enterprise!
What was it like visiting Buckingham Palace on such special occasions?
It was quite a unique experience. The Palace is just beautiful, from the gates to the picture gallery, which is where the actual reception took place. But even more impressive than the Palace itself, and the warm welcome members of the royal family gave us, were the other guests – fellow winners of Queen’s Awards. The people there represented some of the most exciting, innovative companies in the UK and were an inspiring group of people to spend an afternoon with. They are investing their time and energy in everything from technology to cutting-edge business services. The conversations we had in that room were fascinating and certainly reassured me that UK business is on the right trajectory, prioritizing ethical operations and achieving milestones through steady, measured hard work.
Your global translation company recently went through rebranding - Today Translations is now a Guildhawk. Why you've decided you need to change the name?
You are not the first person to ask! I actually wrote a blog about it, which featured on our new website on the day we launched as Guildhawk. I have to say, it wasn’t a decision taken lightly, and was the cause of more than a few sleepless nights on my part in the initial stages of the rebrand process! But, pretty early on, I put those nerves to bed. This was something we had to do, to better articulate our mission, both for ourselves and our clients. Today Translations had brought us so far, but it had started to limit us. We, as a company, were so much more than a regular translation agency, and we needed to get that message out into the world; to better enable and empower ourselves and, in turn, our wonderful clients.
Guildhawk is a name inspired by the time when you were a young market hawker, a little girl from Lithuania selling seeds. Could you tell me more about your childhood in Lithuania?
It is indeed! The “Guild” of the name refers to the collective (or guild) of experts that comprise our company and colleagues, while the “hawk” part comes from my time as a market hawker, where I learned so many of the lessons that would support me throughout my working life. Back then, I learned the value of a hard day’s work, and the irreplaceable importance of language, as I used various ones to communicate with and draw in clients. I also learned some tough lessons about trust and ethical business. My first significant gamble was on a trip to Dubai to buy silk for my stall. But the trader I agreed the deal with didn't give me silk and I ended up at the airport with crates of the strangest wool you’ve ever seen! Was it a misunderstanding? Luckily for me, the yarn appealed to the Russian buyers at the time, and ultimately, I turned much more of a profit than silk would have ever allowed! Another lesson – make sure you do your due diligence, and when life gives you wool, make the very most of it! In terms of my childhood in Lithuania, it was a very happy one. It was my home. Even though I’ve now lived in the UK for longer than I was in Lithuania, and also consider it home, Lithuania will always be at my core – a huge part of my identity and how I approach the world.
At 19, you moved to Britain to study law and economics at the University of London and set up Today Translations while at university. As an immigrant and a woman, have you encountered obstacles in the business world?
I have certainly encountered obstacles along the road to where I am today. Whether those are rooted in being a woman or an immigrant, I really can’t say. What I can say is that I have consistently embraced them! It sounds trite, but it really is true that if it were easy to run your own business, everyone would be doing it! I thrive on being challenged, and genuinely see difficulties as opportunities to do something new. What is the point in all the striving and working and achieving, if all you achieve is something someone else has done before? Take our Content Management System for instance – QCS+. This was entirely born of a situation where I hunted for an all-round tool for my company in its infancy and was told over and over again that nothing meeting my requirements existed. So I learned to code and created my own! And it has been the foundation on which all our workflows and procedures have been built – all because of an obstacle overcome back in those early days.
The company now has a global network of around 3,000 globalization experts and linguists in 160 countries. We all admire your success story. But how hard was the journey?
Thank you! It was very hard work, but totally worth it. I have been working steadily since I was a child, but it has always been for myself and to achieve my own goals. I have never been an employee! And at this stage in my life, I don’t think I ever will be! I have, of course, had failures, but if something isn't working according to your plan, it isn't a failure its a signal to change your plan or move on, not give up! I’ve learned more through my failures than I ever have through success – important lessons that have helped me to determine what’s essential, what works, and what never will. In that sense, I don’t classify these experiences as failures at all – they have been invaluable in my, and my company’s, success.
What major mistakes did you make along the way?
The only major mistake I’ve ever really made when it comes to business is to put too much faith in experts. That’s not to say I distrust experts – where would we be as a company and a society if everybody felt that way?! But, there was a point in our growth when we didn’t quite doubt ourselves, but certainly placed our trust in external experts even when our guts told us something wasn’t quite working. Inevitably, this placing of faith completely outside of ourselves led us into trouble. This has happened twice now, and each time, I was able to track the issues back to the exact moment when I ignored my instincts and prioritised the advice of someone external. I’m hopeful that instance number 3 will never come to pass. We’ve learned some serious lessons to do with trusting ourselves and our understanding of who we are and want to be. Now, we question anything that doesn’t feel exactly right, or is taking us in a direction we’re not sure we want to go.
Being a company owner is the dream of many. How would you describe the challenge?
It has always been my goal to be my own boss, and to be in a position to offer a platform for others to dream and achieve. It’s been a lot of hard, steady work, and has thrown up consistent challenges but, as I said, those are exactly the circumstances under which I thrive. What has surprised me along the way is how some businesses allow themselves to get stuck in such ruts. For small and medium businesses to not just grow but stay alive, they need to be able to adapt to changing tides, needs and cultures. This is how we, and most successful businesses I know, have flourished.
It has equally surprised me how many exceptional people I have managed to surround myself with. They are the ones, with their expertise and their varying perspectives, who have kept me on my toes, and ensured we never get complacent or too comfortable to adapt to change ourselves.
How do you feel you make a difference in the world?
What a big question! I’m a firm believer that success is measured by the good you did in life, and that is only known after you’re gone. For me, I know only that I try. I do my best to provide a safe space for people to push themselves and achieve their goals. I try to raise others up, rather than compete, and put my all into the things I care most about – my business, my family, and the environment that surrounds us. So, I will leave it for others to judge what difference I made. I can only hope they will have many good things to say!
What do you put your success down to?
My success is largely as a result of the people around me, particularly those I work with. Every single member of the Guildhawk team is an expert in what they do, and the work ethic is staggering, across the board. Without that skill and that sheer determination, there’s no way we could be achieving at the level we are for a business of our size! It’s genuinely inspiring to me every day. I like to think that at least some of that is down to my leadership – as these are qualities I have strived for myself all my life.
And, of course, a little luck never hurts. Ultimately, you can plan everything to a tee, but there’s no accounting for the things that can go wrong, or simply for unexpected changes. I’ve learned over the years that change is the only constant, and you have to be ready to adapt at all times. That means Plan A, Plan B, and usually a Plan C too – in fact, Plan C can be crucial!
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful business?
From my experience, I would say you need to be determined; you need to be willing and able to go your own way, but never be too proud to take advice from people who know what they’re talking about. Hire carefully and cleverly, and treat your people well. A team that is invested in the success of their company will work twice as hard! Trust your instincts and live outside your comfort zone – no one ever achieved much by being comfortable. And, above all, have a clear plan (or three!) and goals. These should be the basis of everything you do, and will ensure you continue to move forward in a meaningful, measureable way.
What is it that motivates and drives you the most?
I am mostly motivated by those around me, by helping them to grow and seeing them accomplish more than they expect of themselves. I am driven by a quest to bring ethical business back into fashion, work with like-minded businesses, and help them to move the message around the globe.
And I am always spurred on by a challenge. I love finding solutions to problems no one else can find, and achieving things I’m told I can’t achieve – always have been!
How is translation now different from when you started out your business?
It’s almost immeasurably different! Speaking for Guildhawk, at least, it has diversified massively, going from a document in-document out model to something so much more complex. These days, our projects consist as much of multilingual risk analysis and eLearning as they do translation and proofreading.
Business has globalised significantly in the last 20 years – to a point where companies simply have to take account of linguistic differences and the importance of language as a tool to create a credible presence, a mutual understanding and a relevant message in local markets. Successful globalisation of a business, by its nature, requires exceptional localisation. You need to speak to people in their language – both literally and figuratively. Some businesses are a little late to the party, but we are getting there!
You are a successful entrepreneur, you've been living in the UK for most of your life, but how important to you are your roots, and do you hold strong ties with Lithuania?
Lithuania is where I formed my identity; where I learned to be a business person and a human being – it is an essential part of everything I am! I think having a strong tie to your roots and embracing your identity makes you a stronger, more coherent leader. Being a Lithuanian person in the UK also gives me a different perspective on how things could and should work. My mind works differently to my UK colleagues. I realised that quite early on in my UK career, and took it as a positive model for my business going forward. A visit to the Guildhawk offices – in the UK or Lithuania – is like a trip to the UN! We have so many different background and perspectives available and contributing to how we work. It’s a big part of why we’re so adaptable and how we manage to solve issues others can’t – as a group, we all see the problem, and the possible solutions, differently.
What advice would you give for start-ups?
I would have to say, get the basics of your business nailed down early on. It’s not a trendy piece of advice, but you need to think about how you’re going to actually generate revenue. So many success stories out there relate to businesses that attract investment, but it’s very rarely mentioned how they actually plan to make money through their operations. Ultimately, this is what a business needs to do – start-up or otherwise. It’s the only way to survive and to keep supporting the brilliant people you have brought along with you. We all want to be making a difference, but in order to do that, you need longevity. Beyond that, make sure you know who you are and what your business stands for. Take on board lessons from other businesses, but only those that are useful – and know and follow your own mind.
Where do you see Guildhawk and yourself in 5 years’ time?
5 years is too small a milestone for us at the moment! We’re thinking long term only! We have invested a lot of time and effort in the rebrand, to ensure we remain timeless. Guildhawk is here to stay. Better to ask where we would like to be in 100 years, because I have big plans for 2119!