Earth Month reminds us of the many ways of reducing waste and pollution to improve the environment. Eastern Bank customer Cindy Frené, founder and president of TransAction Associates, has been at the center of creating alternative transportation solutions for more than 30 years, including being involved with bringing the first electric bus fleet to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts where she helped with vehicle procurement, installation of charging stations, and route and schedule development.
Her company is a story of two businesses coming together, with TransAction Associates providing clients with best-in-class service in consulting, planning, and managing onsite commuter programs, and TransAction Corporate Shuttles providing quality transportation and rideshare shuttle services to employers across Massachusetts. The organization also stands as a trusted partner to the Massachusetts Department of Housing & Community Development, providing transportation for homeless families to temporary housing, and of the federal government’s National Rural Transit Assistance program, offering technical assistance and training materials to rural and Native American transit operators throughout the country.
Today, Frené still describes being a woman leader as a challenge. In her words, "You have to be resilient." Her story speaks to her success in this regard and in an industry that continues to evolve.
A Woman-Owned Business with 32 Years of Growth and Success
Frené’s interest in reducing air pollution began in 1989. When she was working at a large engineering firm, she studied how California was starting initiatives to reduce pollution and comply with the Clean Air Act, jumpstarting the shift from single-occupancy vehicles to ridesharing. She predicted trip-reduction regulations would impact the rest of the country, and has had a front row seat to the evolution of this industry ever since.
In 1990, she was asked to develop a plan to mitigate traffic around a large, new office park in Canton, Massachusetts, and was later asked to start a regional rideshare program in the Woburn area, followed by another one in MetroWest.
She says, "When the Massachusetts Rideshare Regulation started to be enforced, I was positioned to fill this niche. Today, we provide rideshare transportation programs and compliance reporting to more than 60 large companies, institutions, and hospitals annually."
Percentage of all employer reporting handled by TransAction Associates for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Ride Share Program
Source: TransAction Associates
Beyond rideshare reporting, Frené and her team develop regional collaborations to lower air pollution through trip-reduction strategies. Programs serve both single-site employers and groups of employers coming together to work on roadway improvements and other approaches to reducing air pollution.
Frené’s shuttle division offers additional transportation alternatives, providing employees with shuttle services from train stations and off-site parking lots to their worksites. Clients include private employers, hospitals, municipalities, and mainstay events such as the Boston Marathon, the Jimmy Fund Walk and the Walk for Hunger.
TransAction Associates Management Team
Overcoming the Road Blocks, Even in a Pandemic
Frené has worked with Eastern Bank since 2018 and praises the experience. In particular, she notes how Eastern helped during the onset of COVID-19, saying, "Eastern has been wonderful to work with and has provided a lot of support—particularly with the number of safeguards in place to secure our accounts, offer access to as much funding as we need, and assist with the PPP loans during the pandemic."
Designated an essential employer because of its shuttle services for area hospitals, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans Frené was able to secure for her company with Eastern’s help enabled her to keep employees on the payroll at a time when their roles were needed the most.
Support during the pandemic is just one example where Eastern is providing a consultative approach to Frené and her team on a range of business issues, from the best options for financing new equipment to account security, taking the relationship beyond one that is purely loan-focused to one that encompasses regular conversations as day-to-day needs arise. Eastern’s Relationship Banking Team works with TransAction Associates to first understand a business concern and then provide their knowledge of Eastern’s broad suite of products and offerings to help implement solutions.
The Realities of an Entrepreneur
Starting a business is hard. Making it last, and elevating it to new heights year after year, is even harder. Frené, though, has continually adapted her approach and tailored it to fit the needs of the times, despite working in a then-unconventional field. Even now, she remains an outlier, only being able to name two other women who own bus companies.
As she explains, "Surviving nearly 32 years in business is no small feat. When I started my company, there wasn't even a career path, never mind an industry that focused on implementing trip-reduction strategies. I believe I contributed to the launching of this as a career for many people."
She points out that sometimes it's the unexpected successes in which a business leader ends up feeling the most pride. In 1998, TransAction Associates was hired by the State to design and implement the transportation component for Access to Jobs, Massachusetts' planned welfare reform. Not only did the program win a national award, but as Frené notes, it "successfully moved many women off of welfare," at one point providing services to up to 3,500 people a day.
As far as advice she has for other women who might want to start businesses, her biggest recommendation is to never go it alone. Seek guidance and assistance where's it's available, both from institutions like Eastern Bank and from people who have built and grown their own businesses in the past.
"Surround yourself with smart, experienced people,” she says. “Look for people who can help you and provide sound advice."
The other key is not only striving for success but also being passionate about the business you've chosen to create. As Frené says, "I love what I do. It's challenging and never the same in any given week. I never viewed it as 'I have to go to work,' it's always been, 'I get to go to work.'"
Cindy Frené's story is one of learning from experience, having a vision, and using the resources at your disposal to realize that vision. For over three decades, she has taken an idea once downplayed and turned it into something that is improving the environment. Even now, she remains outspoken about the necessity, for any business owner, of being open to new ideas, guidance, and assistance from institutions like Eastern Bank. If you're looking to start or expand your business today, reach out to us.