A chat with our CRO, Sarah Bull

As TBSJ continues to go from strength to strength, its internal and external relationships have never been more important.

We asked Sarah Bull, TBSJ’s chief relationship officer, what she brings to the role and how the organization plans to navigate the challenges of its rapid growth while embracing its expanding client base and team.


How has the evolution of your role at TBSJ influenced your work approach?

After obtaining a Masters in Japanese Interpreting and Translation at the University of Queensland, I worked in-house at a major law firm in Tokyo for four years. The idea of working remotely was quite established in my mind because quite a few of my lecturers had been based in various locations—Tokyo, San Francisco, Melbourne, and Perth—so when I had my daughter, I became a freelance translator with TBSJ because I could telework and have the flexibility I needed. Sometime later, I became a senior legal translator and began attending events while taking on an advisory role. Today, I hold a board position and am director of legal services. 

My own experience and how I was able to calibrate my work with TBSJ, committing more as my personal life allowed, is something I reflect on a lot. I couldn’t have done this job when my daughter was small and my dad had developed dementia; we were travelling home to Australia for months at a time. I love that TBSJ didn’t want me to choose between my professional career and important things in my personal life if it was in any way avoidable.

We have a lot of people at TBSJ who are at different stages of their life, perhaps needing to dial back because of some personal commitment or wanting to work more because their kids have become more independent. One of TBSJ’s reoccurring themes is adjusting the way we work with people depending on what is going on, and I’m in charge of managing that for different people. Sometimes it might come up that someone used to be available all the time, but these days they’re not. When this happens, whether I’m speaking to the person themselves or other managers, it’s meaningful that people can see I’m speaking from my own experience, and of course I feel good I can genuinely relate.


Does your background in translation make your role easier?

Yes, my translator background comes up all the time. One of the most important things is understanding what information from the client would be meaningful or helpful to share with the translator, and what would be a distraction. I know what it’s like to be given a glossary at a late stage in a job, and that it’s challenging when you have to split a large text between multiple linguists working in parallel. My experience allows me to understand how the translators like to keep busy, too. Among the various assignments, there’s interesting and enjoyable work, which most translators really like, and other work that’s more tedious. We always try to balance out the types of assignment. The same goes for editing and checking work because, generally speaking, a lot of translators prefer translation work over quality assurance tasks.


How do you balance all your responsibilities?

It depends on what’s going on at the time. If legal translation projects are going swimmingly and everyone can cope without my involvement, that’s great. I will take that opportunity to make progress on a lot of the other stuff that I need to do. Because of the nature of our work, we never know what projects are going to come in, so it helps if I’m on top of HR, recruitment, and other relationship-related things. We’re moving 24 hours a day, with requests coming in around the clock. If I assessed everything, I wouldn’t get anything done. I trust the team to escalate things to me if a complicated job comes in. We have an incredible team; they know what they’re doing, and they know when they need help. I feel very supported because of that.


How is TBSJ changing as its technology business develops?

Our translation business now has a dual role as an R&D hub, so that is a big shift. In the past year or two, we’ve had to bring on more people for the tech team. We’re recruiting not only linguists and project managers, but also people with certain technical skills. Part of that process involves learning how to find those people, bring them on board, and integrate them into the team. Bringing on people who don’t necessarily speak both Japanese and English is also a really recent development for us.

Another massive change is that we’re building technology tools that are for use not only within TBSJ. So far, we’ve rolled out some of those tech tools externally in a limited way. Sanbi, for example, is available for free to anybody. As we start offering Leveraged AI to more clients in-house, and offering our tools in a way that people can subscribe or buy things online, that’s something new to navigate. It will require putting people and systems in place, which will involve a lot of growing and learning for everybody.


How is TBSJ adapting as it grows?

Getting much bigger is a new thing to navigate and presents new challenges. All staff in the past were trained personally at some level by board members. Now we’re transitioning to a new phase. We’re asking ourselves how we communicate with a larger team, disseminate our values throughout the organization, and keep an eye on things without micromanaging or abandoning team members to fend for themselves. There’s a need to change the way we work so we have balance—staying on top of things while having contact and interaction.

We’re going from a start-up way of doing things to an SME-way of doing things—all in an atmosphere of growth. The growth is visible and it’s a very front-and-center goal at TBSJ. Every time we add a new client to the roster, there is an announcement in the general team chat, with a note on how they found us. Sometimes we add four or five new clients in a month, and even though the announcements were originally intended just to provide general information, team members respond by leaving excited comments or heart emoji. It’s a very welcome reaction, and also made us realize that we hadn’t been thinking as much as we needed to about how best to communicate news and make sure people feel part of a team that achieves these things together. When TBSJ was smaller, everybody would know when we got a new client. We’re adjusting to keep the sense of community.


How can you retain TBSJ’s DNA?

It’s definitely going to be a challenge. Part of the answer is trust. We trust that the people we interact with directly will take what they’re getting out of our interactions and replicate it with the people they’re working with most directly. For example, when we have an internal business meeting, we talk about everything else going on in the background—the weather, lockdown, holidays, kids. We believe that if we treat people like we believe they should be treated, then if they’re on a call with their project management assistants, they’re going to act in a similar way. I think that happens already based on the chats and handover meetings.

It’s also important to regularly check in. I try to have one-on-one calls with team members from time to time and make myself available if they want to talk. As a distributed company, we’ve always had to be more deliberate in this way as we can’t have office parties or team lunches, and this behavior will continue as TBSJ grows.



TBSJ were competitively priced and outperformed the competing translation vendors that we considered or had used previously in terms of quality and service. They were unmatched by other vendors.
Senior Associate
Disputes team at a major international law firm
I always choose TBSJ as my first option for translation service. TBSJ is really responsive and provides us one of the best quality translation for reasonable price.
Partner specializing in competition law at a Big Four Japanese law firm