Business Name: Cloudberry Language School, a school that teaches Russian, Arabic, and Mandarin Chinese
Type of Business: Language Services Company
Business Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Reason for starting
I wanted to create global opportunities. I’m fluent in three languages myself, and I found that every new language I learned brought great opportunities and new friends around the world. I wanted to help other people open up their world in the same way. As a veteran of the marketing industry, I saw a gap right away after I moved here. On the one hand, there are “critical need” languages – Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, and Russian – that the U.S. government says Americans need to learn in order to protect national interests and stay competitive in an increasingly global economy (countries where these languages are spoken make up 20% of the world’s GDP). These are challenging languages, and they’re not an option in most schools. So the job opportunities they offer – often as exciting as they are lucrative – remain inaccessible to the vast majority of Americans. On the other hand, the U.S. is home to this incredible untapped resource: college-educated immigrants with the legal right to work, many of whom remain unemployed or underemployed. It’s not just that there are people who speak Russian, Arabic, and Mandarin – many of these native speakers are also highly skilled professionals. In their home countries they worked as professors, consultants, scientists – they have specialized and extremely valuable knowledge, but it’s underutilized. The way to fill the gap was to provide critical foreign language education to Americans while creating jobs for skilled immigrants. When I first moved to the U.S., I was shocked to see how little many Americans knew about the world around them. It’s especially strange because there are people from all over the world in this country and it’s a great resource that is not being leveraged. Also, I noticed there is a disconnect in terms of the increasing interest among Americans to learn languages other than the traditional Spanish, French and German taught in schools and the availability of native instructors in such languages. And I wanted to connect the two needs. Finally, as a philologist who is interested in bilingualism, I was surprised by the lack of proficiency of Russian among children who speak Russian at home with their families in the U.S. Many children are able to speak the language fluently, but do not know how to read or write in the native language of their parents. They also lack understanding of certain idioms and cultural differences. Also, I saw how difficult it was for parents to keep them motivated. I wanted to make sure that my children would have access to quality Russian language programs and the motivation to speak their heritage language. Cloudberry was set up to become an educational platform for bilingual children and teenagers who speak another language at home. Then later we added corporate language training and fun pre-travel classes for young professionals. I’m really happy to see that the school is growing and hope for the support of the local communities.
How do you define success?
Success is the ability to inspire people to grow and become better, to know that you didn’t quit when you really wanted to, to provide fulfilling jobs to talented people, to provide services that make our customers better and more well-rounded people, to build a team of great people who enjoy working together. Success is when everyone around starts believing in what you do and caring about it.
It’s still ahead.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
My top challenge was getting my first corporate client. I guess every small business has been there. Persistence is the key word here! As Benjamin Franklin said, “Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
Who is your most important role model?
I really admire the Russian empress Catherine the Great. Catherine II, the most renowned and longest-ruling female leader of Russia, was not actually Russian. Catherine was a German Lutheran in a highly Orthodox country who had zero knowledge of the Russian language when she moved to her new country. Despite this, she was able to learn the language, adapt quickly, build a support system among the Russian nobility and people, and then use her power to revitalize the Russian economy, culture and foreign influence. Catherine took an unfamiliar, faltering nation and brought the Russian Empire into its golden age. In addition to leading Russia into a new era of prosperity, Catherine sparked a new movement to empower Russian women by founding the country’s first university for women. Catherine was an outsider at heart attempting to break into a society that functions differently from her own. As such, I see some parallels between Catherine’s situation and my own. I’m still learning from Catherine how to inspire people, build teams and secure support in new environments. Incidentally, it always amazes me that Russia, despite a history of strong female leaders (Duchess Olga, Tsarinas Anna and Elizaveta, Nadezhda Krupskaya, etc.), has clung to a very traditional role for women in society. The second role model would be Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo’s CEO and a mother of three, who inspires me both as an extraordinary female executive and a foreign-born global strategist. The business world can be challenging for both women and foreign nationals. I experienced these difficulties firsthand while trying to rebuild my career in the U.S. Even though the U.S. is a country of opportunity for all newcomers, global talent still struggles to succeed in the upper reaches of business, and companies are unable to take full advantage of their abilities. Indra Nooyi has displayed a great deal of resilience and courage in overcoming both of these obstacles and realizing her goals. She is the model of an accomplished immigrant. Indra has an exceptional global vision and a profound understanding of the attractions and difficulties of entering emerging markets. Nooyi was the first CPG industry executive who dared to enter the untapped Russian market. PepsiCo recently bought Russia’s largest food and beverage company, Wimm-Bill-Dann, in what was the single largest acquisition in PepsiCo’s history outside of the United States. This bold step was made despite increasing global concerns about the Russian government’s control over business, and the purchase clearly required an incredible amount of persistence and a diplomatic touch to win approval from Moscow. Beyond simply overcoming these obstacles, Nooyi has used her unique experiences to push forward with meaningful cause marketing programs and make a global impact. I would love the opportunity to get some tips from her on identifying opportunities in unfamiliar markets, making quick and informed decisions, motivating diverse teams, moving a company or an industry, and taking social change to the next level.