When You Work for Mega Translation Agencies, Here’s Where All the Money Goes That They’re Not Paying You: Part II

A little less than a year and a half ago, No Peanuts! reported on the obscenely opulent, Mabley Handler-designed, $11.5 million mansion purchased by TransPerfect co-CEO Liz Elting and her busband, Michael Burlant.

Translators making five cents a word helped pay for that house, but it turns out NP! wasn’t alone in having a problem with Elting’s ostentatious purchase.

Her co-CEO, Philip Shawe, was also more than a little peeved, and he fired off a series of smoking-hot emails after Elting took cash directly out of TransPerfect in order to help finance the purchase.

As Shawe himself put it, “So f—k it,” but I don’t think he used hyphens.

Things between the two have since become so icky and petty that Shawe and Elting now have lawyers helping them figure out a way to divide up the company they can no longer run together (see story below).

So now, translators making five cents a word are also helping pay for a buttload of expensive Manhattan lawyers. Still, the breakup of TransPerfect couldn’t have happened to a nicer pair of modern-day robber barons.

Which is why we’d like to suggest: karma. One of the reasons “karma” is such a great word is that it’s the same in so many different languages. You don’t even need a translator.


IN THE MARKETS

Court orders feuding biz partners, ex-lovers, to sell their profitable translation firm

You almost never see a judge order the sale of a healthy business. Then again, you never saw a business like TransPerfect, whose co-founders are now going through a nasty commercial divorce.


Photo: Buck Ennis
Philip Shawe and Liz Elting of Transperfect.

About the only time a judge ordinarily orders the sale of a company is when the enterprise has filed for bankruptcy or is in some serious kind of financial trouble. TransPerfect, a Manhattan-based translations firm, is the picture of vitality, last year posting record revenue of $470 million and $80 million in profits. Yet co-founders Philip Shawe and Liz Elting, who once planned to get married, are locked in such a vicious commercial divorce that a Delaware judge has demanded an outsider sell their thriving company.

“The painfully obvious conclusion is that Shawe and Elting need to be separated from each other in the management of the company for its own good,” wrote Andre Bouchard, chief judge of the Delaware Court of Chancery, in an Aug. 13 ruling. Attorneys for the adversaries weren’t immediately available for comment.

TransPerfect was founded in 1992 by Mr. Shawe and Ms. Elting in their New York University dorm room. In 1996, the pair got engaged, but Ms. Elting called it off a year later and married someone else in 1999. (Mr. Shawe married in 2011.) The two split their business 50-50 and built one of the nation’s leading translation companies, with 92 offices in 86 countries housing 3,500 full-time employees, plus a network of 10,000 translators, editors and proofreaders working in about 170 languages.

All was sweetness and light in public between Mr. Shawe and Ms. Elting, but behind the scenes the former lovers came to loathe one another. Frequently they cursed each other out in F-bomb-laden emails, and Ms. Elting once ended a meeting by dumping a pitcher of water onto Mr. Shawe. They fought over who to hire, which companies to buy and how much they should pay themselves and others. They clashed when some of the company’s American Express points had been used to pay for a plane ticket for Mr. Shawe’s fiancée.

In May 2014, the war blew open in court when each sued the other for mismanagement and malfeasance. A few weeks later, Mr. Shawe filed a “Domestic Incident Report” after Ms. Elting allegedly pushed and kicked him at the office. In the report, he identified Ms. Elting as his ex-fiancée so the incident would be treated as a domestic-violence matter and require her arrest, according to court documents. Ms. Elting’s lawyers intervened to prevent the arrest.

In his ruling, Mr. Bouchard blames Mr. Shawe for the worst behavior in the TransPerfect storm.

In February 2011, after the American Express-points incident, Ms. Elting emailed Mr. Shawe: “I think your priorities are all wrong now and we’re not meant to be business partners. [Let me know] how much you want to buy me out for–I’d like to make this amicable.”

But the two couldn’t agree on terms and Ms. Elting’s decision in 2012 to take cash out of the company to help pay for an $11.5 million house in the Hamptons infuriated Mr. Shawe. After yet another fight, Mr. Shawe fired off an all-capital-letters email that read: “I cannot run my part of the company this way … and have enough money and have no $12 million house. So f—k it.”

As the feud escalated, Mr. Shawe broke into Ms. Elting’s office computer on the evening of Dec. 31, 2013, and stole thousands of email messages, including secret communications with her lawyers, according to a court document.

A year later, on Dec. 2, 2014, Mr. Shawe arranged to surprise Ms. Elting by getting a seat next to her on an overnight flight to Paris. “Was next to Liz on the plane to Paris and she switched seats😉,” he texted colleagues. He described his move as an effort to broker peace.

The judge didn’t buy that argument. “The smiley-face emoticon at the end of his text message suggests he was amused by yet another opportunity to harass Elting,” he wrote, adding that he might require Mr. Shawe to pay all of Ms. Elting’s legal fees.

In the meantime, the judge determined that Mr. Shawe and Ms. Elting are so deadlocked that he appointed an attorney to sell their business. The judge suggested numerous ways a sale price acceptable to both parties could be reached, including an auction process called a “Texas shoot-out.”

About No Peanuts! for Translators

No Peanuts! supports professional translators & interpreters in demanding & receiving fair pay for their work.
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