Humans of CLI: CEO Kristin Quinlan Is Excited. Find Out Why

Four people, including CLI's CEO Kristin Quinlan, are sitting on a stage speaking on a panel at a conference hosted by the Association of Language Companies.
CLI’s CEO Kristin Quinlan (far right) speaks on a panel about California’s AB5 at ALC’s UnConference in January 2020.

Last year was a strange one, eh? 

“This has literally been the hardest year of my life,” CEO Kristin Quinlan joked in a not-so-funny way. But, like a lot of other businesses, for CLI, it was also a year of opportunity, more industry visibility, and plenty of reasons to look forward to the future. 

Here’s Kristin.

An interview with Kristin Quinlan, CLI’s CEO

1. The pandemic brought a lot of change for most businesses. What are some of the changes you think will stick around?

Kristin: For the language industry in general, and for the limited English proficient community, I would say the broadened use and acceptance of remote interpreting. In many instances before the pandemic, face-to-face interpreting was the standard. It was a dominant part of the industry. When everything shut down, and on-site interpreting wasn’t possible, even with in-house interpreters at hospitals, organizations had to move remote. Since then, there has been a fairly wide acceptance of using remote interpreting, and I don’t see that attitude shift going anywhere for many encounters. 

2. Last year was tough, but was there anything good that came out of it?

Kristin: As bad as 2020 was, it gave us so many opportunities to rethink things. It really propelled us forward as opposed to keeping us at a standstill. We looked at what we could do differently, and how we could adopt better methods.

Like everyone, we’ve had zero breaks, because, I don’t know, there are no conferences and no vacations! So it’s just been all of us on a full-court press. And it’s not just me, everybody in this company has worked their tails off. But we’ve come out the other side significantly better. Our growth is on par with what we expected if there wasn’t a pandemic, and it’s given us a way to look at things differently that will allow us to continue to progress and be recognized as one of the industry leaders.

If you’re not always inventing and thinking ahead, you will fade away. So this experience gave us the space to think of a bunch of things.

3. Looking back, did anything about 2020 — aside from the pandemic itself — surprise you? 

Kristin Quinlan stands next to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. The two are posing for a picture and smiling.
Kristin and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden

Kristin: For our employees having to pivot to a work-from-home model so quickly, and for it to be as successful as it’s been . . . it’s been really positive, and everyone has done really well. 

For CLI, working from home has been brought up many times here, and I’m always like, “No time! Can’t figure it out!” But when everything shut down, we had to do it, and it’s really worked well, so now we’re trying to figure out how to expand our presence virtually. Doing so would allow us to onboard more people in a remote way without taking up more square footage.

One thing that’s surprised the medical world is the explosion of telehealth. Telehealth has been around for north of 10 years, and people have been able to provide care remotely, but there were multiple barriers preventing organizations from doing it, including funding. Medicaid and Medicare had strict rules around its use, which made it ineffectual in most scenarios.

Well, telehealth has now exploded, and it’s not going to go all the way back to being as irrelevant as it was. And federally it’s being acknowledged. Oregon’s own Senator Ron Wyden was part of the initial push to include expanded access to telehealth services through the CARES Act. He’s even proposed legislation to continue this support and the financing even after the pandemic.

I had the opportunity to speak with him, and I said absolutely, 1,000%, you go . . . but only if you include the provision of funding for language access on these platforms. So, we’ll see where that goes. That’s something I’m continuing to work on.

Related: Accessing Interpreters for Telehealth Made Simple with 3-Way Video Calls

3. What are you looking forward to in 2021?

Kristin: Everything! So 2020 gave us the chance to reinvent and be relevant, but we’re going to build on that in 2021 to take CLI to the next level and beyond, and I’m super excited. Some of our initiatives have been a knee-jerk reaction to COVID, while others have been a matter of growth and how to support that growth. We’re making some huge investments and want to make sure our initiatives reinforce those so we’re completely set up and ready for this next level. The world is our oyster!

4. Anything happening in the language industry that’s been catching your eye lately?

Close up of Kristin's dog, Rudy, wearing a paper mustache.
Office aristocrat Rudy dons a (fake) mustache. Rudy is Kristin’s beloved dog.

Kristin: The industry, at large, has become more relevant and visible than ever before, which is why I’m working so hard on a national level on advocacy and lobbying initiatives. We’ve done a lot of interviews, and everyone wants to talk about language access during the pandemic under the larger umbrella of the health disparities minority populations face. People who speak a language other than English have been an afterthought. It’s given us a platform like never before where we can really talk about the importance and the need for funding and the need for acknowledging interpreters, translators, and language service providers as a knowledge-based, professional industry.

5. When things get back to “normal” at CLI, what are you looking forward to the most?

Kristin: Hugging people! In general, CLI or not, my husband and I often talk about the fact that we’ll know the pandemic is over when we can go in a crowded bar and hug and kiss every single stranger we see.

I do miss people and the “watercooler talk,” or wandering into somebody’s office and catching up about their kids or dogs. I just miss that human connection. You can’t drop in and talk with people the same way. It’s hard to just throw a Zoom link out there. I miss the ad hoc visiting, and a lot of times, that’s where creativity and ideas flow, and I miss that. I’m looking forward to that coming back. But I also am embracing a more fluid way of running and operating this business.

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