Liz Elting was always taught to be self-reliant, so it’s no surprise that she ended up an entrepreneur. As a lifelong lover of languages (who had already lived in five countries on three continents) with a passion for bridging gaps, she took a job at an NYC translation firm where she realized two things: first, that the internet was going to let international business go truly global, and second, that the translation industry was not ready to handle the vast increase in cross-cultural communication and the demand for services that support international business that was certain to follow. With that in mind, she set out to build the most comprehensive language solutions company in the world, capable of carrying both a large volume of work while also offering specialized services for technical, legal, and financial documents.
In 2018, Liz fully committed herself to her philanthropy, founding the Elizabeth Elting Foundation to bridge gaps of another kind — with a focus on initiatives that lift up women and underserved communities — from business to public health to education, venture funds, and scholarships. This year, Liz launched the Foundation’s Halo Fund, a comprehensive COVID-19 response initiative providing relief to critically in-need areas.
CONSCIOUS ENTREPRENEURSHIP — What meaning do you give this term?
I think of “conscious entrepreneurship” as the simple concept that businesses ought to leave the world better than we found it. We can and should be a force for good, and I believe in my heart of hearts that the private sector is uniquely able to quickly adapt to changing needs. If we’re not moving the world forward, making not only our lives better, but our communities and the world we live in better as well, then what’s the point? All entrepreneurship should be conscious entrepreneurship.
MENTORS — We all need a little help along the journey. Who has been an invaluable mentor for you? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
My parents. My dad raised me to never depend on anyone, and my mom showed me what an independent woman could accomplish on her own. My parents encouraged me to work for the things I wanted (beyond necessities) rather than simply giving them to me. So anything extra I wanted had to be earned, which not only taught me the value of hard work, but was also incredibly empowering. Between the two of them, I was given wonderful examples of what hard work could achieve and why my independence was so vital. My mom, in particular, after my parents split up, blazed a path forward for herself. Thanks to them, I knew my future was in my hands — and no one else’s.
TO THRIVE — When you see yourself thriving: Do you see yourself opening up opportunities for others along the way to participate in your success, and how?
I spent over twenty-five years building a company and a fortune, and while I wouldn’t trade it for the world, I’m glad to be doing what I’m doing now because it’s what I find most rewarding. My sincerest desire is to share what I’ve made, to open doors for others, and to break down barriers that hold women and marginalized groups back from achieving their goals and fulfilling their potential. Since 2018, I’ve been primarily focused on my philanthropic work through the Elizabeth Elting Foundation and my ongoing partnership with the American Heart Association, and since the pandemic struck, my focus has been on COVID-19 relief, as our sunken economy and depressed job market make daily survival difficult for the millions who have been thrown out of work. I always say that making the world better is the whole point of my success — it has given me the resources needed to have a real impact, and that’s exactly what I intend to do. I hope I’m already giving people the opportunity to participate in my success, but I’m just getting started.
CAUSE — What are the causes close to your heart, and you are supporting right now? Can you share a story how you got involved? How did it make you feel?
The running theme has always been bridging gaps (first for companies doing business globally and now for those facing structural inequalities). I think everyone deserves the right to reach their potential, succeed, and build financial independence. As a woman in the business world, I had a lot to overcome, but I was also very fortunate in many ways. I want to bridge the structural gaps that keep women and other marginalized groups and underserved communities from doing what they’re meant to do. Prior to the pandemic, and this will be especially important once we’re back to something resembling normal life, I was primarily focused on helping women advance economically in the face of systemic discrimination. And that discrimination hasn’t stopped; we’ve born the brunt of the pandemic more than any other group in the country. When companies choose between firing a mother or a father, they’re more likely to fire the mother. Women are being encouraged to resign if not outright terminated, while punishing the day-to-day work of caring for homebound children (especially here in New York City, where the schools just closed again). Once we’re through this, we’re going to have a lot of rebuilding to do.
As for how I got involved, I think that it’s something I’ve never not been involved in. There’s a story I’ve told a million times: my first job out of business school was as an arbitrage broker, but they kept asking me to answer the phones, restock the supply cabinet, take notes, and make my male coworkers’ coffee. It didn’t drive me to activism, but it really hangs in my head because it was demeaning. They treated me like a secretary when I was their colleague.
THE FUTURE — How do you see the face of entrepreneurship in 5 years? How do companies /brands need to adapt to secure their place in the future?
The pandemic has already forced us to make a lot of changes, but the good news is that makes it much easier to keep changing and adapting, allowing us to work smarter. Work at home culture is here to stay in one form or another, industries are being shaken up, and, in response, companies are innovating and finding creative solutions. Being nimble, dynamic, adaptable, being open to change and ready to take on challenges and continually innovate are all qualities that businesses, no matter the industry, are going to need to succeed. Certainty has always been an illusion, it’s just now more apparent than ever. That’s a reality companies are going to have to accept and be ready for. So many of the certainties we had in 2019 about how the economy functions are up in the air, so above all, I preach flexibility. We spent the entire post-WWII era cutting our processes to the bone in the name of efficiency, and what that did was leave us uniquely vulnerable to disruption. Brands that want to adapt and survive need to recognize the danger of over-engineering your processes or acting as if trends are eternal.
The plus side is that, even though the pandemic has revealed so many gaping holes in our economy (as well as exacerbating existing ones such as healthcare), it’s revealed new opportunities in doing so (afterall, problems are really just opportunities for solutions). Think about it. Sure, there are online grocers now, but never has there been such demand for it, and they’ve strained to keep up. For that matter, remote shopping is prone to so many other pain points: a shopper who gets the wrong item or won’t deliver to upstairs apartments, for example, or too many or too few options. How do we make that last mile a great customer experience? How do we forecast demand? How do local grocers compete with the big companies and keep money from flowing out of their communities? How do we ensure secure transactions? How do we accurately track inventory? How do we manage customer experiences? How do we maintain volume of sales? Every single one of these questions has a million or even billion-dollar solution somewhere.
ADVICE — What kind of advice would you like to give to an aspiring entrepreneur who feels limited due to their background or lack of resources?
Believe in the power of your ideas. Believe in your ability to bring them to life. And most critically, work the way you work best. There’s no single one-size-fits-all approach to running a successful business, but look, a lot of people want to sell you the idea that there is. I find it supremely helpful to setting goals and breaking them down into individual tasks. Not even “steps;” just things that need to be done. I like to write down the specific, big picture things I want to accomplish (when I was running a company, I would set goals for things like the number of cities I wanted to be in, the number of clients I wanted to sign, and the volume of work I wanted to be able to do), and then I break those down into smaller goals that will ultimately get me there. That helps me stay on target without being overwhelmed by the enormity of a long-term project. But other people work differently, and that’s okay. The best thing about entrepreneurship is you get to make the rules.
DRIVE — Do you sometimes feel bad for “wanting more out of life”, and if so, why? What is your personal motivation that leads you through the hardships of entrepreneurship?
Never. I never feel bad for wanting more out of life. Who doesn’t? Who out there is always perfectly satisfied? You could say I’m like a shark: swim or die. I don’t believe in resting on your laurels. I’ve always been a builder. It’s as natural to me as walking (to be honest, one of the hardest things for me is sitting still).
CHALLENGES — Entrepreneurship is very challenging. We each have our own coping mechanism. Mine is humor. What is yours? Can you share a story?
I cope by working. I have a tendency to bury myself in things that need doing because it helps manage my anxiety whenever it becomes a problem. It’s about feeling in control of something and being a part of the solution. There is, at least, this thing I can do right now. I hope that makes sense. When there isn’t something that needs doing, it’s easy to feel helpless and at the mercy of fate, and I refuse to be at anyone’s mercy.
YOU — Is there anything you would like to share that we have not asked you here?
I am a massive baseball fan, to the point that I was an usherette for the Toronto Blue Jays four summers in a row in college. So I’m really excited to see Kim Ng become the first woman general manager in the history of the MLB! Though we need to remember how hard it was for her to reach that position despite her overwhelming qualifications. As we move slowly into a post-pandemic world, the gains women have made over the last decade or more will have to be clawed back, because the same biases that made it so hard to get that far in the first place are still there, especially if business leaders remain wary of future pandemic conditions. Women have to stand together and raise each other up, because nobody — nobody — is going to do it for us.
Reach out to Liz Elting on LinkedIn.
Demee Koch about the MEDIUM interview series on CONSCIOUS ENTREPRENEURSHIP:
Conscious entrepreneurship for me is about building a sustainable business that values and respects the resources used and makes an effort of giving back to society.
I believe we need entrepreneurs to really get involved in the causes close to their heart.
This is why I reach out to entrepreneurs that aim for more than generating profit. With this interview, I aim to share entrepreneurial purpose-led passion to inspire others.
Looking forward to learn from you. Reach out to me via LinkedIn.