Struggling to support her family since immigrating to the United States from Cuba as a teenager and without the means to go to college, Hortensia Albertini says she started out as an entrepreneur with only one thing going for her — her language. That, and a filing cabinet and phone in her kitchen.
Albertini began by teaching Spanish to executives in that kitchen. Today, she is the owner and president of Global LT, a Detroit-based company operating worldwide to provide various language services and cultural training including language training, translation and interpreting services and expatriate training.
Smart Business sat down with Albertini at the 2011 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum to discuss how she's expanded her solo start-up into a widespread, international success.
Q: What were some barriers to worldwide growth you faced?
I have been very lucky because really the only barriers that I have encountered have been growing pains.
For example, right now we’ve completely run out of space. So we have to make the decision, what are we going to do. Are we going to get a much bigger building and sell the one we are in, or are we going to buy a second building? And the same thing in Asia, the same thing in Europe — what do we do? We don’t have the space.
It’s great, but you have to spend a lot of money in order to keep on growing.
Q: How are you able to identify new opportunities for growth to expand on your services and implement them?
We watch what the countries are experiencing. What are the changes they are going through? And if we see a need in there, we try to do something about it.
We’re always looking ahead. What are going to be the needs of tomorrow? For example, I am a cancer survivor, so when I was going through chemo I realized ... there was a lack of sensitivity towards the patients, especially when you’re dealing with patients from other countries. So guess what? Now we are offering sensitivity training to Beaumont Hospital in Michigan.
Q: How important is it for executives to understand the culture and language where they’re doing business?
Communication is essential in business. If you can’t communicate, you can’t do business in other countries — bottom line. And also a sensitivity to the culture, it’s very important. I think we are becoming just one world, and we definitely need the culture and the language in order to succeed.
Q: How do you go beyond excellent service to deliver the unexpected to your customers?
Based on the relationship, you get to know them and you get to anticipate their needs. And I think that many times that surprises them, again, going the extra mile.
We did the whole relocation for (a) family to Michigan (from Germany). Guess what? We brought their horse, too.
I don’t think they (expected that). And I personally went to the Hunt Club in ... Michigan, and I told them there was a very important horse coming in. I wanted to see where the horse was going to be, I wanted to see what services I could. Many times, especially in the past, I dictate a lot of that myself.
Even today, they still say “We can’t believe you transferred (our) horse.” They’re very grateful for that.
That’s going the extra mile.
Q: How do you communicate your corporate vision to employees of the organization throughout the world?
Of course, being global ... we work with Skype.
And we try to have once a month a global meeting and we let (employees) know what our new things are. Even though our headquarters are in Michigan, of course, we do a lot of things together as a team, because we’re a family — a big family.
For example ... I used to sit in the reception area because I like to see who comes in, who goes out. One time, this vice president of a big company in Detroit came and he was looking for one of our employees. When she came out, she said to him, ‘Have you met our owner?’ And he goes, ‘No wonder this company is so successful!’ So it’s being part of them. I’m not their boss, I’m one of them.
Q: How do you view philanthropy in what you do?
The satisfaction that you get when you give to someone and you see their smile on their face, it’s something that can’t compare. And everyone in our company is like that, because definitely we make sure that ... we not only have great talent in the business field but also as human beings.
That’s part of why I think being an entrepreneur is great, because I don’t have this big organization with red tape telling me who to give (to), who not to give (to).
In our organization ... Fridays, it’s bring your pet to work. We have dogs all over the office and it’s great. And we just collected tons of toys for kids with leukemia. We always sponsor shelters for the homeless, for pets. We love it, and that’s what brings us ... together as one.
How to reach: Global LT, (248) 786-0999 or www.global-lt.com