Vivian Isaak created Magnum Group 24 years ago — back when there was no Internet and cellphones were scarce — and it was named Eastern Pennsylvania 2016 Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year by the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Don’t cry for Vivian Isaak, the Argentina native who’s made it big in what she calls “one of the oldest professions in the world.”
The woman who chose to live in Germany — where her father had grown up before he was forced to evacuate during World War II — for three years because she wanted to see how the country had changed, has since gone on to somewhat revolutionize her industry.
That’s one reason why Magnum Group, the business she created 24 years ago — back when there was no Internet and cellphones were scarce — was named Eastern Pennsylvania 2016 Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year by the Small Business Administration (SBA).
She’ll be honored at the annual “SBA Day at the Ballpark,” June 8 at Xfinity Live in South Philadelphia.
For Isaak, who came to this country as a single mother without a work visa, seeing the growth of her business as a full-service multilingual operation that now encompasses 30 countries with more than 2,500 linguists, has been rewarding.
It’s quite an accomplishment for the little girl who used to help out in her father’s plastics factory in Buenos Aires when she was only 6.
Yet she said it’s the work of her employees that have helped make it a success.
“This award is proof of the team that surrounds me — not just me — doing something great,” said Isaak, who started off in New York before moving to Philadelphia in 1993. “I started the business with nothing 24 years ago, so the vision I had has been recognized.
“It shows if you’re passionate about what you do and do it day in and day out and don’t give up, you can make it.
“I was able to overcome the hurdles and succeed,” said Isaak, a board member of HIAS, which works with immigrants like she once was. “It’s proof that the journey, no matter how hard, was worthwhile. But I never gave up, even though there were hard times as in every business.”
In her case, the business has undergone a complete transformation since it started, particularly from the technological end. But the art of communication — the basic idea of transmitting information from one person to another even if they speak different languages — never changes.
“When I started the business, the Internet did not exist,” said Isaak, who once cruised from Argentina to Greece looking for a job and wouldn’t leave a supervisor’s office until she got hired. “We used to work with couriers and relied on FedEx or else we would go to the clients in person.
“But the art part of what we do has never changed — and that’s one of the oldest professions around. Not one thing about the translating has changed. What has changed is the technology that exists to support the art. The path for growth is investing in the right technology and making sure the art doesn’t disappear.”
What also hasn’t disappeared — and has even been strengthened — is Isaak’s Jewish identity. Having a German father who was rescued via Kindertransport and a Yugoslavian mother whose family hid in Italy for five years before escaping to Brazil and then Argentina, she holds a true appreciation for her heritage.
“My Jewishness is my way of thinking and approaching things,” she said. “My Jewish tradition is what inspired me not to give up. My inspiration is my Jewish family.”
In turn, Isaak can serve as an inspiration to other women running their own businesses.
“It’s wonderful to have the privilege to recognize the achievements of leading Pennsylvania woman-owned small businesses like Vivian’s Magnum Group,” said Antonio Leta, the Eastern Pennsylvania director of the SBA. “Small businesses like these are where the rubber meets the road, helping drive our nation’s economy.
“I’m proud that the SBA and our lending and resource partners — like the Women’s Business Development Center — have a role to play in helping them start and succeed.”
According to Isaak, the key to that success has been Magnum’s ability to adapt to the economy in conjunction with its clients’ needs.
“Because we don’t create anything, we depend on the economy,” she said.
“We’re always mindful of how are clients are doing.
“Our customized solutions help clients connect with their audience in any language — in print, video and on the web. That enables us to successfully partner with our clients to achieve their strategic goals: to broaden their global presence, increase their market share and gain a competitive edge in new markets.”
For nearly a quarter of a century, the formula has worked, enabling Magnum to serve clients throughout the world without ever having to leave its Center City office.
Yet Isaak prefers to downplay her part.
“I don’t believe I’m a trendsetter or role model,” she insisted, before being asked what advice she’d give someone just starting out.
“Follow your dreams and be passionate about what you do,” she replied.
While no “Evita,” for Vivian Isaak, another powerful woman from Argentina, it’s translated into award-winning success.
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