Jill Kushner Bishop, owner of Multilingual Connections.                                          Photo by Ned Schaub

When Jill Kushner Bishop and her husband, Mark Bishop, decided to move from Chicago’s Logan Square to Evanston, they were looking for a smaller community, where their young son would thrive. Dr. Bishop knew Evanston was a good choice for all of them, but she did not realize the role that it would play in helping to grow her translation and transcription business, Multilingual Connections. 

On International Women’s Day, earlier this month, Dr. Bishop spoke about building a successful woman-owned business. She explained how it has thrived in Evanston and how fulfilling it is to see the impact that her team is making. A recent move to The Main, the business and residential development located at Chicago Avenue and Main Street, is the latest milestone in Multilingual Connections’ 13-year history.

From the start of the business in Dr. Bishop’s Logan Square basement, and even before, she knew she wanted to bring language and people together. She said, “I didn’t grow up thinking that I would be a business-owner, but I knew that I loved language, and I knew I loved seeing the impact that language can have in a community.” 

After earning her Master’s and Doctorate in Linguistic Anthropology and  gaining corporate experience at Chipotle Mexican Grill, she felt she was prepared to go out on her own. In charge of language and culture programs at Chipotle, she had learned what shared language can mean not only to the bottom line but also to morale and individual employee success.

Language courses customized for business needs were part of the first services she offered from her own language school, but there were many other  classes designed to meet different needs and schedules. Typical customers included parents who wanted their children to learn the language the parents had grown up with, newlyweds preparing to speak the native tongue of their honeymoon destinations, and students who needed one-on-one tutoring. Shortly after she received her first request to translate a corporate website, she began offering translation services. There was plenty of demand, but as Dr. Bishop and her husband moved further into parenthood, she began to feel that her schedule had to change and that she needed to focus the services of Multilingual Connections.

She tells of a moment of clarity that came on a long bike ride. “There were all these buckets [of business lines going on in my life]… – and I decided on that bike ride that I needed to do less and do it better. I turned my bike around, came home, called a real estate broker [to sell the business property], and talked to a couple of language companies about taking over some of my classes.” The Company’s sole focus became translation and transcription, which allowed Dr. Bishop to have a less demanding schedule and better work-life balance.

While moving the business to Evanston helped her achieve that balance, it also revealed that doing business in Evanston is different from doing business in Chicago. She smiled as she said, “Being a business-owner in Chicago, so what? But being in business here, you see each other, you’re able to support each other, you’re able to share ideas and inspiration. It’s really been great to create those connections.” 

Dr. Bishop talked about the support and fellowship other women business-owners have given her, her easy engagement with City officials, and how she was welcomed by Evanstons corporate leaders. However, she also noted that she is often the only woman at some gatherings of business leaders, and asserts, “I do want to make sure that there are opportunities for women to have an impact and see themselves in the boardroom. . . .”

Multilingual Connections’ client roster continues to grow. It includes major corporations, government agencies, and academia. Among the many are the FBI, Stanford University, Blue Cross/ Blue Shield, and Marriott. The company has continued to focus what it offers. Dr. Bishop says, “Our goal is to help organizations understand, engage, and grow their multi-lingual markets. For some, that is going to be on helping their business expand globally. It might be translating languages for their workplace. It might be creating a better community in their offices.”

Asked about the company’s impact, she said, “I talk about how many thousands of words we’ve translated, how many thousands of minutes we’ve transcribed, the number of clients we’ve served. . . . But I could certainly pick out where every day we are having an impact on people’s lives. . . .” She talked about working with the criminal justice system, the Department of Children and Family Services, and companies that are working to disseminate health interventions more broadly. 

She seems especially pleased about a recent choice they made to do work for a researcher at Columbia University who is looking at Syrian refugees living in Jordan, and at their sense of home and place. “The budget was teeny,” she says, “but we decided to do it anyway, because it was important to us to do.”

As Dr. Bishop looked around the company’s new office space, designed to ensure a healthy work environment, she shifted her thoughts to the impact she wants the company to have on her team. “I started hiring people and the talents they brought to the table, combined with the needs and requests of the clients, helped the business grow in ways that I never could have envisioned initially. The team is committed to the clients, to each other, and to the company.” 

Also, the team now includes Dr. Bishop’s husband, Mark Bishop.

Multilingual Connections works in 75 languages and has an international team of translators all around the world. Dr. Bishop acknowledges that it is not always easy to find a job when a career choice centers on language, and she says she is proud that she’s helping others who share her passion. “It’s hard when you love language. . .” she says. “Being able to create career and job opportunities for them so that they can grow and change as the company continues to grow is really exciting.”

Ned Schaub is a feature story writer for the RoundTable. He has served as reporter, content developer and communications manager across his career in the field of nonprofit communications. Ned studied...