Cathy Molohan on 23 years at EnglishBusiness and the new path ahead
EnglishBusiness without Cathy Molohan? It’s hard to imagine, but after 23 years Cathy is stepping down from her responsibilities at the company she co-founded. Luckily, we had the chance to catch up with her on the beginnings of EnglishBusiness, the company’s future as well as her life with Parkinson’s disease and her plans for the future.
Cathy, you and Nina Zolezzi founded EnglishBusiness in 1997. What was it like to work at EnglishBusiness 23 years ago?
Nina and I were so young then. I arrived at a meeting with a potential client to be asked when “Frau Dr. Molohan” would be coming. They couldn’t imagine that that was me!
Technologically, it was a different world. I remember translations still arriving via fax. But the people aspect was the same – working with people from all over the world who all wanted to help people communicate better. I loved that then and it’s still what makes EB special.
How has the company changed since?
In many ways, the company has “grown up” with us. Back in the day, there were fewer rules and regulations. Nina and I used to do a lot of the training ourselves, but there was less and less time for that as the years went by. We now carry the responsibility for an amazing team and over time compliance with GDPR or our translation department’s ISO certification have become part of our responsibilities.
What are some of your favourite memories? Does anything specific come to mind?
We had some hilarious episodes over the years. I remember the day, right at the beginning, when the Hamburg “Ordnungsamt” came by and politely suggested that we might want to take out an ad in the Yellow Pages as opposed to plastering every lamppost in the vicinity with our ads. And of course the time Nina and I won our first big corporate client – a meeting we went to on one bike, me on the carrier.
We also had some really great terrace parties; first they were late-night, with lots of music and dancing. Then we and our colleagues started to have kids and brought them along. Now the kids are teenagers and party longer than we do.
The good thing about working with close friends was that many challenges didn’t feel like work. Nina and I worked through Easter one year – must have been early 2000s – to finalise a huge project for a client. It was hard, but a lot of fun too.
People are the key to our business. Treat people with respect, listen to them and trust them.
What lessons from your time at EnglishBusiness do you want to pass on to your colleagues?
People are the key to our business. Treat people with respect, listen to them and trust them. If they are the right people they will do the right thing. Stay true to yourselves while remembering that what made EnglishBusiness successful for over 20 years also needs to be respected.
This year has brought extraordinary challenges, but hard times pass. It’s not easy at the moment but we made it through the dotcom bubble of 2000 and the financial crisis of 2008. If you have good staff and loyal clients, you can get through a lot.
Early days in the Jarrestraße office (can you spot the fax machine?).
In a way, you have been working remotely since you moved to Frankfurt away from the main office in Hamburg. Has this prepared you for the working environment since the COVID-19 pandemic?
Absolutely. The pandemic changed everything, and having my husband and kids working and learning from home was a big challenge for all of us. But from a work perspective, it was almost easier in a way. Suddenly everyone was in meetings via Teams, not just me. Before, it was sometimes tough to be the only one not physically in the office.
I knew from my five years in Frankfurt that working remotely works well. It does mean more discipline though, and it’s very important to take those moments to check in and say hi – the moments that you normally have at the coffee machine.
Technology is changing the way we communicate and also how coaches and language service providers work. How do you see the industry changing in the near future? How are the changes affecting EnglishBusiness?
We went digital overnight when COVID-19 hit. I honestly didn’t think that training – especially soft skills – could work well remotely. But it does. We converted most of our existing classes to virtual classrooms and now offer language courses online. People are immensely creative in coming up with ways to make the learning experience interesting in this new world. Technology will continue to change the way we work and learn, but the human being is always at the centre.
The translation industry is a bit different, I see technology making huge strides here. But language depends on cultural context and is a living, evolving thing rather than a rigid code. More efficient software and machine translation will take over the more mundane tasks, but skilled, creative and emotionally intelligent language experts will continue to provide essential services in a globalised world.
Trying to bend your personality to circumstance doesn’t work; good leaders are genuine and true to themselves, in my opinion.
You have a doctorate in History. How has this background informed your style as leader and communicator?
I think studying European Studies and History gives you perspective on the world. You realise that you are acting within the framework of your times, and that looking at the big picture around you is very important.
I’m convinced that we need to understand where we come from to know where we are going. It also showed me that there are many kinds of leaders – some very charismatic and loud, some quieter yet also effective. Trying to bend your personality to circumstance doesn’t work; good leaders are genuine and true to themselves, in my opinion.
What are your three best communication tips that anyone can use in their everyday life?
I see a lot of kids – friends of my children – freaking out because they need to do a talk at school in front of the whole class. I usually offer them this advice:
- Tell a story, not just facts.
- Break your message down into examples that people can remember. Don’t say “Lapland’s capital has a very small population”, say “Lapland’s capital has fewer inhabitants than Bockenheim or Harburg” or whatever local suburb fits.
- Tell people what you want them to remember. You might think your message is clear. Most people won’t.
The founders, 20 years after landing their first corporate client sharing one bicycle.
You were diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2011. How has it changed your life?
Dramatically! A diagnosis like Parkinson’s affects everything. It becomes one of the central aspects of life, whether you like it or not. Before my operation, my symptoms – primarily the tremor – had become very visible. So I chose to share my diagnosis with everyone – friends, colleagues, clients. I have had almost nothing but incredibly wonderful reactions. People know I have Parkinson’s disease, but it doesn’t define who I am. However, it is still a very serious disease that, at least with the current medical status quo, is only going to get worse. I have to do a lot of exercise and physiotherapy, rest more and eat well so that I meet this beast head-on. My family are incredibly supportive and that helps a lot.
People know I have Parkinson’s disease, but it doesn’t define who I am.
What is the silver lining or what does one learn from dealing with a serious disease like this?
That people are amazing! I have met incredibly strong, inspiring people who are fighting tooth and nail to live a good life no matter what their symptoms are. And there is definitely a silver lining. I travelled to the World Parkinson Congress in 2016 with my Mum. It was in Portland, Oregon. We rented a red Mustang convertible and did a road trip down the Pacific Coast. It was amazing.
Last year I was an ambassador for the WPC in Kyoto, Japan. I made that trip with my husband. Those are two fantastic trips that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. The Congress itself is also the most inspiring event imaginable.
Your recent operation seems to have given you some quality of life back. Can you tell us a bit about the operation and how it has changed your outlook?
In May this year, I underwent a procedure called deep brain stimulation. The neurosurgeons placed two electrodes in my brain that then permanently stimulate the affected area. The operation took eight hours and I was awake for most of it. It’s a very strange feeling to be reciting the days of the week knowing that your skull is open! I’m immensely grateful to the doctors. When they turned on the stimulator that evening the tremor disappeared. It’s a whole new lease of life. I can sometimes even forget that I have PD. Until of course I have to charge the battery of my stimulator! The kids laugh at me sitting on the couch with a charger around my neck.
I am convinced that we would all benefit if people affected by diseases were involved in all aspects, from research to therapy to finding a cure.
You have become very involved in patient advocacy. What were some of your most important projects?
I speak as often as possible at conferences about the patient perspective. I am convinced that we would all benefit if people affected by diseases were involved in all aspects, from research to therapy to finding a cure. There was one conference in particular in Barcelona where I spoke in front of people involved in clinical trials. To them, patients are – understandably – often statistics. I got amazing feedback thanking me for reminding them why they do what they do.
You will now take on a new role at the Yuvedo Foundation. Can you tell us a bit about the organisation and your responsibilities and objectives?
I met one of the founders of Yuvedo, Jörg Karenfort, through a mutual friend and was immediately impressed by his determination and his energy. The Yuvedo Foundation has two goals: to care and to cure. We want to help accelerate the search for a cure for Parkinson’s and help those affected by Parkinson’s to live better lives until a cure is found. My role is International Relations; to reach out to as many people and organisations as possible worldwide to generate support.
Statistically, one in 15 people reading these lines will develop Parkinson’s in their lifetime. That’s a shocking figure. We need a cure, not just treatment.
One of the most important projects we are currently working on is Project Brainstorm. Statistically, one in 15 people reading these lines will develop Parkinson’s in their lifetime. That’s a shocking figure. We need a cure, not just treatment. The German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) confirms this view. They told us they shared our concern regarding industrial commitment to the development of new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases. Modifying therapies are lacking for both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Although several studies have been completed, no effective cure has yet been found. Many pharmaceutical companies have withdrawn from investment and research in drugs or biologicals for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.
This is what I want to invest my energy in moving forward. I truly believe that Parkinson’s can be cured if we go about it right.
What are you looking forward to most in this new chapter of your life?
Taking up knitting! Ok, jokes aside, my husband says I will probably be busier now than I ever was. While I am very excited to have the chance to make a real difference in the Parkinson’s community, I am also looking forward to being able to focus on my own health, and on my family. I hope I get the balance right.
If you want to help Cathy’s fight to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease, consider donating here.