When Harley-Davidson needs new owner's manuals translated into 22 languages, or mining companies up north need to advertise in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun, where do they go for help?
To a company in St. Boniface that's quietly been translating for some of the world's biggest companies in more than 100 languages for the last 20 years.
Parenty Reitmeier Inc. employs 70 people at its offices on Des Meurons Street and relies on 320 translators around the globe. It was started by a bilingual high school dropout from St. Pierre-Jolys.
Farm kid Jean-Pierre Parenty left school in Grade 11 and went to work as a grain trader on the floor of the former Winnipeg Commodity Exchange. When he was 32, the stress of the job got to the married father of two.
"I sold my exchange seat not knowing what I'd do next."
A friend asked if he could translate documents dealing with futures trading into French. Because of the complexity and jargon, translators in Winnipeg said they were unable to do the translation: "(They would say) 'We don't understand what that means in English,' " Parenty said.
Knowing the language and the highly specialized lingo of the business, he translated a thick stack of documents in a month and made around $4,000.
The die was cast.
"Within nine or 10 months, I was able to make a living out of my basement," he said. "I could find the work and be the middleman between clients and translators."
Initially, he found clients connected to the grain business in Winnipeg, including the Canadian Wheat Board, the Canadian Grain Commission and the Canadian International Grains Institute.
He opened an office with one phone and one computer and hired an officer manager from a credit union who became his business partner.
"JP was good at selling and coming back with these contracts," said Diane Reitmeier. She helped get the systems in place and find the right people to get the translation projects done in the days before the Internet caught on.
It wasn't easy, Reitmeier said. Two weeks after she started, Parenty had to go on the road. She worried about what to tell potential clients who called looking for translation services.
"He told me, 'Just say, We do that all the time,' " she said with a laugh, "and we'd figure it out."
And they did.
Back then, a firm in the seemingly not-so-cosmopolitan city of Winnipeg offering translation services was a hard sell in Canada, however. Parenty went south and drummed up new clients in the United States.
"As long as you deliver good quality on time, they don't care where you're from," he said.
Within two years, they'd tapped into the mechanical and automotive industry. Now, Parenty Reitmeier translates owner and service manuals for Polaris, Honda, Kia and Harley-Davidson.
It specializes in translation for the mechanical and financial sectors and people doing business in Northern Canada.
"We've become extremely good by not generalizing," Parenty said. "We do a few things really well."
The biggest challenge isn't dealing with more than 100 languages, it's dealing with so many different types and versions of software each company uses, never mind Mac or PC.
The pace of business is moving faster, and clients want their translations done more quickly now, too, Parenty said.
"Ten years ago, it was eight weeks. Now it's two to three weeks."
Most of the subject matter is "extremely dry" but accurate translation is critical.
They've had the Harley-Davidson contract for 13 years, since the firm they replaced made a major mistake. A manual advised the operator when bleeding the bike's brakes to refill the brake lines with oil, not brake fluid -- a simple mistake with potentially serious consequences.
"It could cause an accident," Parenty said.
The company carries insurance in case that happens but has never had to use it, he said.
Project managers at their newly renovated two-storey building are in charge of translation jobs and ensure they're done correctly and on time.
"It's critical they know the language and the culture very well," Parenty said.
That's especially true for the North.
"The northern market is very different," Reitmeier said. The culture is different and the pace is different, she said. Companies usually leave translation services until the very end and set tight deadlines for them to meet, Parenty said. In the North, that can't happen. Translators in the North used by Parenty Reitmeier have different values and priorities and aren't likely to translate 3,000 words into Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun in a day, Parenty said.
"We need to understand that and work with that," Reitmeier said.
Employees make up a global village
LAST week, Statistics Canada figures showed Canada's growing language diversity, and Winnipeg's Parenty Reitmeier is cashing in on it.
Its employees from around the world see it as a fringe benefit.
"It's great -- there's so many people from so many different cultures," said Aleid Haenen from the Netherlands. She'd never heard of Winnipeg until she had a chance to work at the company for a year as an intern.
"An internship in Canada looks good on a resumé," Haenen said. She's part of the company's Dutch team working on Honda manuals that need 1.8 million words translated.
"It's a huge project."
In the desktop publishing department, Arlene Laplante is changing North American English into British English for Harley-Davidson's Shoptalk magazine. She's switching z's to s's in the word organization and switching program to programme, as examples. Nearby, a colleague is going over an electrical schematic in Spanish, making sure the translation fixes are done. Behind him, Julius Banares from the Philippines is editing a voice-over for a training video recorded in the company's studio earlier in the day.
Joel Marcon left his Manitoba government job with translation services two years ago to work for the growing company. Now he's training new project managers. On Tuesday morning, he was showing a linguist from Mexico City -- whose specialty is trademarks and patents -- and a communications graduate from the Netherlands how things are done at Parenty Reitmeier.
Neither woman had heard of Winnipeg before getting their new jobs.
"It's a big deal for us to get foreign workers here," founder and co-owner Jean-Pierre Parenty said. "All the work we do here we stole from Europe or the U.S."
It's good for Winnipeg's economy, he added.
"Seventy (more) people now call Winnipeg home -- 70 families are here paying taxes and buying groceries," Parenty said.
And they're helping to put Winnipeg on the map by word of mouth.
"One hundred people in Holland will now know where Winnipeg is. Before, they didn't know it existed."