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Meet the Pride: Will Rowlands-Rees

Chief Product Officer in Connecticut

Travel to Connecticut to meet Lionbridge’s Chief Product Officer, Will Rowlands-Rees. Will manages Lionbridge’s product strategy and works tirelessly to bring innovative solutions to Lionbridge customers. When he’s not working, he enjoys traveling, baking sourdough bread, and spending time with his family.

Tell us a little about your role at Lionbridge.

Chief Product Officer is a really interesting role. Companies exist to make products, and in product, we intersect with every part of the organization. We intersect with technology when we’re creating new solutions for our customers, and with marketing when we tell the story of the customer’s journey. We interface with sales and operations, as well as legal and finance. Product really is the glue that binds an organization together.

As an organization, it’s our job to identify the trends that are happening outside in the market, and how we can address and attack these trends. We then build the products to solve the customer problems we’ve identified and ensure that these products are compelling to our customers. My job as Chief Product Officer is to make sure that we hire the right people to help us realize these goals, and to eliminate friction for my team so they can keep doing the amazing work they do every day.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

There are four things that get me excited to do my job every day. In any role at any company, I always think about what my “why” is. My “why,” or what gets me really excited, is when we find the “aha moment.” The aha moment is when you’ve identified a problem that someone didn’t see, you’ve worked out how to solve it, and the customer says, “Aha, that’s really going to make a difference.” If you can seek those moments out, then you’re creating change.

I also think the industry in which Lionbridge operates is undergoing a massive transformation. Lionbridge has become a content company, adding value throughout the content lifecycle. If you step back and look at the bigger picture, more content is being created in the world in general. People’s attention spans are reducing and their consumption patterns around content are changing. Companies need to create smaller, more personalized content in order to land with their target audience. We have amazing solutions to help people do this.

The third thing that excites me is the types of technologies we’re working with, like AI and Neural Machine Learning. With these technologies, we’re solving difficult problems really well at scale. I’m also excited by the companies that want to partner with us around innovation and engage with us, which include some of the world’s largest tech companies.

The fourth thing is that there’s a great gang of people here at Lionbridge. No pun intended, but there’s a lot of pride in the Pride. People are proud to work for Lionbridge and solve the problems we solve. They love the customers we work with. They always go the extra mile, and it shines through. Even in a remote setting, it’s quite infectious.

A dog and a kite flying

From a product perspective, what excites you about the industries Lionbridge operates in?

When I look at a company, I try and think about what the assets of that company are. And in the case of Lionbridge, we have two really interesting assets from a product perspective. Not only do we domain expertise in language and understanding its nuances, but we have a rich data history of having done that. We have possibly the world’s biggest corpus of translation memory necessary to build a machine learning model. When you want to do something different with AI, you have to train it and provide it with data. We are really well equipped to do that.

Secondly, if you look at our customer base, we work some of the world’s largest and most influential organizations. These organizations understand technology, and many of our customers design and build the technology that we use every day. But they’re also innovators, and they’re trying to solve problems at real scale. They want to partner with us to do that, and leverage our own expertise. It’s very exciting.

What are some key trends affecting our industry today?

There are four bucket of external trends that impact what Lionbridge does. The first is that new generations are coming in and consuming content in different ways. It’s not just digital first. It’s digital only. And the turnaround time for people to deliver content is reduced. As a content creator, your ability to have an impact is much shorter, because there might be other people who are also trying to get that content out or tell that story. Content needs to be as personalized as possible in order to land with the right audience. The pandemic has also made people more comfortable with digital content, especially in areas like training and eLearning.

The second trend is around infrastructure. The internet bandwidth available to users has grown exponentially over the last decade. As a result, people’s ability to consume rich media has also massively increased. And that infrastructure has been rolled out around parts of the world that used to be less accessible. Over 1 billion new consumers have come online over the last five years, and that’s predominately in parts of Africa and Latin America and Asia. These are new markets that need localized content, which is interesting for us.

The third one is technology. Machine translation and AI continue to get better. Other companies are working on groundbreaking technology like GPT-3, which is starting to create really good question and answer models. This technology can start writing a piece of content for you. We’re seeing these new technologies impact our business, reduce turnaround time, and reduce costs for our customers.

And the last one is regulation, which continues to change or restrict the things you can do. Regulations like the GDPR around personal information in Europe, and working in more regulated industries like life sciences and financial services, create unique challenges. It’s an area we’re consistently thinking about. 

Sourdough bread

What’s the most exciting opportunity on the horizon this year for the product team?

We’ve just launched our Smart Content™ initiative, and we’ve been quite deliberate about taking it through a proof of concept with a couple of our largest customers first. And that has shown that we’re solving the right next set of problems our customers want and need us to. I can’t wait to further productize it and create new solutions for current and future customers at scale. Our relationship has already started evolving with our customers, and it’s incredibly exciting. The next 12 months are going to be a lot of fun!

Where do you live, and what do you enjoy about living there?

I live in New Canaan, Connecticut. I moved here from New York City just over five years ago. Out here, I’m surrounded by woods and have a backyard for my kids to run around in. I love the peace and quiet. Living in New York City was great, but I’m happy to get away from the traffic and hear the birds tweeting every morning.

What’s something a tourist visiting your area shouldn’t miss?

For New York City, I’d recommend going up the Rockefeller Building instead of the Empire State Building. It’s generally a shorter line and from the top of the Rockefeller, you can see the Empire State Building in all its magnificence.

In New Canaan, we have this big park called Waveny Park. It’s home to Waveny House, which is the house where Christopher Lloyd grew up. They gifted the house to the town to turn into a park. So there’s a little bit of Back to the Future in our town.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

These days, it’s mostly about my kids. I coach baseball in town for my eldest son, and as a Brit, I used to play cricket, so there’s quite a bit of bare-handed fielding. I also like baking sourdough bread and playing golf. I love to travel—I grew up as an expat in Africa and Central Asia, so I’ve always loved going to other countries.

How many languages do you speak?

I always say that I speak one and a half. When I was 18, I went to live in France in a full immersion program. When I left, I was pretty good at French, but that’s changed over time. I’m not quite ready to say I speak fluent French, but I can speak enough.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

If in doubt, lead. There are often times where a lot of people are waiting for someone else to make a decision. The advice I got was if you want to be a business leader, at some point you have to lead. If there’s a void, step in and take charge. The worst that will happen is someone will say that’s not your call, but most of the time people are thrilled someone has stepped up and started to make decisions. And then you’ve elevated yourself and driven things forward.

Another piece of advice is don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You learn from mistakes. As an individual, you need to learn from mistakes, but as a manager, you have to let other people make mistakes as well.

The last one is just a general piece of life advice: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you think you could be doing more, don’t wait for someone else to offer it. Either start doing more or ask someone how to do more. Most of the time, people are waiting to see if you’re ready to step up and take on something more. The worst that can happen is someone will say you’re not ready or they’ll tell you what to do in order to be ready. Don’t wait for it to happen; make it happen.

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