Today we’d like to introduce you to Mary Jo Smith-Obolensky.
Mary Jo, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born in Medellin, Colombia, to an American mother and English father. I can’t tell you which was my first language, as English was spoken at home and even enforced. Education was bilingual. As kids, we resented our mother for being so strict about speaking English at home, but she gave us the amazing gift of true bilingualism—something that shapes one’s mind and heart from an early age.
Another life-shaper at the time was my father’s decision to leave my mother when I was 6 months old and the youngest of 4. Medellin in the 1950s, before it grew into the modern city it is today, was a very Catholic and provincial town. Each of the children bore the brunt of prejudice as being children of divorced parents. I was the youngest and understood this the least so I simply accepted that I was someone different from everyone else. I learned to not care what others thought and decided early on to live my life on my own terms.
This attitude proved to be extremely useful. At seventeen, Medellin was a violent place. Students were being murdered on the university campus and people were being kidnapped and held for ransom. I wanted to get as far away from Colombia as I could. I figured out how to get to England on a scholarship to study archeology and paid for my one-way ticket with money that I had saved from teaching English before and after school. My mother was not pleased with this decision, but she had always been a rule-breaker. I was merely following in her footsteps.
Eventually, she agreed and I left for the UK. England was a huge culture shock, on many levels. I didn’t like it. It was freezing and the people were as cold as the climate. I also became disenchanted with the field of archaeology as it was taught and practiced because it often ignored evidence that contradicted the prevailing theories of the time. It was not science but opinion. Because of the conditions in Colombia, I had no choice but to stay and get my degree. I also had to qualify each year as I was on a full scholarship, which meant I had to maintain academic excellence while disliking my subject. I learned then that life is about persisting, not about what one wants.
Twelve years later, I was a single mother with two young children living in the United States. I had decided to homeschool my children and, therefore, I decided to do translations since I could work from home using the Internet. I created Dynamic Doingness, Inc. at that time.
That was almost twenty-three years ago. The business grew organically. I figured out my own process that emphasized quality. I also had my mother’s incredible discipline as a translator and interpreter that I grew up with as a sterling example. I was initially told translations occurred in seasons, but once again I had to disagree. Bills are a regular thing. They are not seasonal. I needed regular work. I persisted and eventually, the business grew to support my children and myself very adequately. I am now an expert in disagreeing with the status quo when needed, and that attitude has served me well.
I have clients I’ve had since the inception of the company. These are large corporations that could have gone a cheaper route for their translations a long time ago. I have managed to keep the quality and the heart of the business intact, regardless of how busy, slow, scary, or abundant it may be, because I care about the quality of the translations I produce, and I value the relationships I have with my clients. I am very proud of my business and very grateful to all the colleagues/team members that have collaborated with me along the way.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Who can ever say a road in business is smooth? But I can tell you that being an employee was always harder than having my own business. I was always getting into trouble, and ironically, it was because I was so competent at whatever I was doing. Before I started my company, I did many jobs, mostly in sales as I wanted to work based on the commission to make a better living.
My mother did tell me early on that there were two kinds of people: employees and entrepreneurs, and I wasn’t an employee. It took me a long time to realize she was right as far as I was concerned: I needed to do my own thing. Only then was I able to excel without harassment, explore new areas, be creative without restrictions/permissions, and think big. Having two children to take care of on one’s own is terrifying. But they were my fuel and my strength. I had a clear mission: to provide for them while living life on my own terms.
Hardship is a wonderful clay that one can use to shape one’s life. It’s a lot more malleable than straight success, I think.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Dynamic Doingness, Inc. – what should we know?
My first major account was with a tech company that was innovative and rapidly expanding in the US market. They were the first to take on the global market with their laptops. I translated the very first user’s manual into Spanish, and it was a terrifying experience as I knew so little about computers, or technology in general! I used the homeschooling skills I had learned to research and figure it out. I persevered and have been able to keep that account as its global needs expanded beyond Spanish. I grew up by getting referrals.
The executives tell others, or as they have moved on to other companies, they hire me based on my past performance. As a result, most of my clients are in the tech industry.
Since we have always taken care of translations of every aspect of the company – from HR to legal to marketing and promotion, as well as audiovisual and voiceover work— we are able to offer a wide range of translations, all of which require specialized teams. It was very clear to me from the beginning that my job was to make my clients look good, take all the weight off that area for them, and always say yes to any solution they needed. As I took care of my clients’ needs, my company expanded.
We are now translating my husband’s debut novel, “Eye of the Moon”, into Spanish, which we published through a DBA of my translations business, Smith-Obolensky Media. I was able to easily find the team to do this through my long-term translator base and I am thrilled with the results so far.
I believe that what sets our company apart from others is the high care element. I have steps in my process that others would consider to be unnecessary or eat into potential profits, but to me, they are the key to running a high-quality business to my own standards, something I am proud of and that I look forward to doing every day. I am not a typical translation agency at all, in fact, I am the antithesis of one. My business is a boutique that delivers great service, not an agency.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
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