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Talking Points

As a boy, George Rimalower remembers serving as a portal of sorts between his parents and the English-speaking world. German transplants who settled in Argentina before moving to the United States, Rimalower’s parents spoke fluent German and Spanish but struggled to grasp English. “I observed my parents struggle through the health care system,” Rimalower, now 57, said. “Many times I was called upon and my sister was called upon to interpret for them.” That experience paved the way for Rimalower to found Interpreting Services International in the early 1980s. The North Hollywood-based company, which provides language support services to industries ranging from health care to finance to tourism and will soon open an office in Madison, Wis., is one of the largest of its kind in the country, according to Rimalower. About 20 staffers work in ISI’s Valley office and the company contracts with 700 interpreters and translators. Many of these linguists are versed in health care terminology, as that industry has proven to be particularly in need of language support services. “We’ve developed a number of programs especially for the health care industry,” Rimalower said. “There are now requirements that health care organizations have to show cultural proficiency, cultural training, in order to deal with a multicultural patient population. (California) Senate Bill 853 speaks specifically about cultural and linguistic compliance for health care organizations.” The senate bill mandates that, by 2009, health plans provide enrollees limited in English with language assistance services at health care facilities that accept that plan’s insurance. Where ISI comes in is if a doctor couldn’t speak the same language as a patient, the company would provide an interpreter to bridge the linguistic gap. As it is, ISI translates millions of words each month for clients such as Kaiser and Health Net, according to Rimalower. “They have to make sure hospitals are in compliance,” Rimalower explained of HMOs. “These managed health care plans will send them our documentation materials that go out to patients. They’ll send anything from correspondence that goes to the patients, evidence of coverage, to educational material about preventing diabetes and hypertension and staying healthy, smoking cessation programs. We translate all of that into literally dozens of languages.” The Business Journal spoke further with Rimalower about how ISI has managed to thrive for 25 years, its plans for the future and the industries it serves. Question: What motivated you to found a company like ISI? Answer: Language has always been something that I’m very interested in, so we started from a small company to one of the largest providers of language services in the United States in the health care field. If we’re not the largest, we’re one of the largest by the amount of work we do and the type of clients we have. I also saw a shift into a global economy. In order to communicate in a global economy, languages are critical. Therefore, translation is an absolutely critical component. Q: How many languages do you speak? A: I’m an immigrant born and raised in South America. I’m trilingual. I speak German and Spanish, and I’ve struggled through English. I attended a British school and learned English in the process. Q: What industries do you serve other than health care? A: We work with pharmaceuticals, high tech, government programs. We work with the tourism industry and a lot of the financial industry, banking industry. We translate prospectuses, news releases, Web pages. We have a very significant presence in those markets as well. Q: Discuss the link between the populations of immigrants here and the business you do. A: There are between six and seven million limited English proficient speaking people in California. More than 40 percent don’t speak English at home. We’re also seeing the need for Chinese translation increase dramatically. More and more Chinese, Vietnamese, Hmong. Q: What led to ISI’s expansion to the Midwest? A: Our newest office is about to open in Wisconsin because there is a tremendous need for language assistance in the Midwest. If you look at some of the immigration patterns, Madison, Wis., is a very good place to have an office. We’re considering an East Coast office, but it may not be necessary with our office in the Midwest. Q: What’s responsible for the company’s growth over the years? A: Doing it right, not taking short cuts, keeping up with technology, having a steady workforce project manager. Some of them have been with us for over two decades. There’s continuity, which is good because what we do is very labor intensive. All of our translations go through a total of four separate iterations before they reach our clients’ hands. Q: How do you feel about those who view multilingualism as a threat, who want the U.S. to be an English-only society? A: I find it absurd. The reality is that we live in a multicultural world. The world is minuscule now. We need to expand communication rather than diminish it, and it starts at home. There are immigrants who speak countless languages in the United States, and we need to make an effort to communicate with them. Speaking as an immigrant, I think we make an effort to speak English, but the mentality that, if you don’t speak English, you won’t have the same opportunity as English speakers, isn’t fair or sensitive or caring. SNAPSHOT – George Rimalower Title: Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Interpreting Services International. Age: 57 Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles Most Admired People: Starting with my parents, they accomplished the impossible dream. They emigrated twice, both times with very little possessions, and were able to create a safe and successful and nurturing environment for me in the face of a lot of adversity. They’re certainly my heroes. I’m reading a biography of John Adams. He was a visionary. Talk about someone who is a strong worker, committed to causes. Career Turning Point: I always had a passion for languages. I think being raised in a trilingual home was a contributing factor, seeing the opportunities out there. Demographic changes occurred. I felt I offered some great opportunities, and I wasn’t wrong. Certainly, over the last couple of years, we’ve experienced anywhere from 10 to 40 percent growth a year. Personal: Married, with three children.

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