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January 9, 2017 Issue

CEOCFO MAGAZINE

 

Environmental Compliance Consultants and Regional Shuttle Transportation Provider for Non-Profits, Businesses, and Municipalities

 

 
Cindy Frené

President

TransAction Associates, Inc.

www.transactionassoc.com

 

Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – January 9, 2017

 

CEOCFO: Ms. Frene, would you tell us about TransAction Associates? 

Ms. Frene: Ours is really a story of two companies that are fully aligned, each supporting the other’s mission —TransAction Associates and TransAction Corporate Shuttles. On one side is TransAction Associates a consulting firm that primarily helps companies with compliance issues around trip-reduction regulations, which effects so many states right now. These regulations are aimed at trying to reduce emissions and improve air quality. They put requirements on employers around reporting, as well as offering programs to reduce the number of people driving alone. TransAction Corporate Shuttles is a transportation provider. With over 85 shuttles on the road we offer transportation solutions to a number of private companies, non-profits and communities that want to transport employees and residents to their work sites from train stations or around and between their campuses.

 

CEOCFO: Which came first? 

Ms. Frene: The consulting part of the business came first. I was working for a large engineering firm as their technical writer, and kept reading about the regulations that were being enforced in California around the Clean Air Act. I suggested to my employer that we start a department that helps companies comply with these types of regulations and manage commuter programs. I believed it was only a matter of time before similar regulations would be enforced across the country. That was in ’89. In 1990 a recession hit Massachusetts and I was laid off, but then my former employer called me a few months later and said, “We have a client that needs those services. You have been talking about starting a business - do you want to try to do that?” And that was my first client that I received from them. 

 

CEOCFO: How do you stay ahead of, let alone up to date, with the various regulations and changing technologies and fads? 

Ms. Frene: We just are always looking to try to keep up to date, even on our shuttle systems. For example, we use live streaming cameras and all the latest technology to really improve our customer service and safety. Our shuttle passengers can go to a website or use their Smartphones to track our vehicles. We have always wanted to keep improving. We have done this on the shuttle side but also on the compliance side of what we do. We regularly attend conferences and seminars, and we belong to a number of trade groups in order to stay connected and stay on top of what’s new.

 

CEOCFO: When might somebody turn to you for a compliance engagement? What do provide for them? 

Ms. Frene: In Massachusetts, there is a Rideshare Regulation that passed in 1975, but it was not really enforced by the Department of Environmental Protection until 1995. Basically, the regulation states that employers with more than 250 employees at a site or within a one-mile radius have to put in place programs that help reduce the number of drive-alone trips going to the work site. Employers hire us annually to survey their employees, put together the required forms and all of the other documentation. In many cases we also work onsite to run those commuter programs throughout the year and help companies work toward achieving their environmental goals.

 

CEOCFO: What are the areas that are most challenging when you are putting together a plan for an organization? 

Ms. Frene: I think the greatest challenge is collecting the data. Massachusetts requires that you get at least a 50% response rate on the surveys for these compliance reports. It’s often difficult to achieve that. We survey tens of thousands of people every year. We pull the plans together for many of the major hospitals in the state, some municipalities, colleges and universities, and large companies like Raytheon, Staples and TJX. It is not always easy to get the employees to want to respond and it is very difficult to get the information from students. We find a way to do it: we hold raffles and just try to make it interesting. Sometimes we go on site and do events, it depends on what is needed. We just try to find ways to get people to give us the information and that is the most challenging aspect. 

 

CEOCFO: Do you have a continuing relationship with the organization or do you establish the plan and they are on their own? 

Ms. Frene: They hire us every year and in some cases we actually have an office at those client sites to run their commuter program. They entrust us to work with their employees, have given us office space, and very often we are running the shuttles for them as well. We manage transit pass programs, help employees get into a carpool or vanpool, provide an emergency ride home program in case someone gets sick or has an emergency and has to leave work. We put all those programs in place. We also developed our own online, real-time ridematching system back in 2002 and completely revamped it in 2015 (eCommuter.org). Now it not only matches people into carpools and vanpools, but also helps commuters find out if they can take transit or find a person to bike with. It is a matching system for people who want to commute together to save money, get exercise or help the environment.  

 

CEOCFO: What is available in technology today that has made it easier for you? 

Ms. Frene: Definitely being able to do surveys online. It is very helpful. As far as the shuttle industry and being able to have tracking systems that enable employees to find out where the buses are; it is all real time. Having WI-FI on the buses greatly improves the passenger experience. The other thing that we are doing now is putting live streaming on our buses so that we will be able to respond to a situation immediately. This has been enormously helpful in reducing our insurance costs because very often, there is a discrepancy if there is an accident or something happens on a vehicle between what someone might say happened or whose fault it was. When you have video of an accident or who’s at fault, it is very helpful. It has saved us so many times from insurance claims. 

 

CEOCFO: Does being a woman owned and operated company come into play for your customers?

Ms. Frene: We are WBENC certified, which is the third largest certification system for the larger companies who are using woman owned or diverse businesses. We also have a national certification from the Small Business Administration. We are state certified as a Disadvantaged Business and a Woman Owned Business. Larger companies like to count that because it helps them achieve goals for diversity. I do not think it has made a significant difference because you really have to be able to perform at a high level and at a reasonable cost. You are compared to other non-diverse companies anyway. It is not like you are going to get hired just because you are a woman, which is fine by me. 

 

CEOCFO: Are there many companies that specialize the way you do? 

Ms. Frene: We actually were the first company in Massachusetts to focus on these types of programs. Subsequently, we have grown to establish regional groups called transportation management associations, having either set up and/or managed 10 of those. These organizations are nonprofits that work with clusters of employers in a region on transportation issues such as sharing the cost of a shuttle, or advocating for a roadway improvement project. We have developed a number of these nonprofit organizations and still manage many of them. 

 

CEOCFO: How are you able to ramp up and handle the volume of projects? 

Ms. Frene: We do plan ahead, and then we have a tremendous staff. We rarely turn down work. It has always been somewhat of a joke around here that we always say “there is no job too small or too stupid for us to do.” I think we have always learned from that. If we do not know how to do something, we will educate ourselves and figure out how to do it. That attitude has been great for us because we have continued to expand and push us into areas where we may not have been. It has really made us stretch and very often get out of our comfort zone, but then we find it is just a good niche for us, especially the reporting that we do for all these clients. I think we are probably doing maybe 40% of the reports that are going into the state’s reporting system right now, so it is definitely a nice niche. We do very little marketing in this or actually in any area. We are really proud to say that most of our business is from word of mouth based on our reputation. We still continue to get business like that, even on the shuttle side because people see our vehicles everywhere and hear about us from their associates. We have 85 buses on the road, mostly in Cambridge, Boston, Acton and Needham. Many people who are driving on Route 128 see our vehicles; they are rolling billboards and we get a lot of work from that exposure. 

 

CEOCFO: What do you look for in your drivers? 

Ms. Frene: They have to have a great driving record, first and foremost. And then it is really about how they treat people. Our drivers are so respectful to us, and we treat them that same way. We call them “sir.” Visitors get a sense that it is a real family atmosphere within the company as well. We really care about our drivers and they sense that. We have drivers that send us the nicest notes or give us gift certificates, which is incredibly touching. It feels like a family here, and that is the atmosphere we have created and continue to nurture. I have had one driver here that has been here since 1999; he stayed with me through this whole time and it was not always easy because when you are having growing pains it is sometimes difficult to make payroll, and everybody just stuck with us for so long. My first mechanic, who just retired, would work on the ground outside in the winter when a vehicle wouldn’t fit into our garage.  Now we have grown the facility considerably to 21,000 square feet and our staff to almost 120 people and we are just continuing to grow. 

 

CEOCFO: TransAction Associates has been recognized as a Top Place to Work in Boston. Did you understand the need to create that atmosphere in the beginning? Did it just develop naturally? 

Ms. Frene: Very organic. It just came naturally. In fact, our first largest client was Verizon (different name back then) back in ’96. The person that I worked for said, “Verizon is having their employees read this book called, Raving Fans.” When he read it, he thought of us because as he said, “It is just something that you do naturally.” We take care of our clients and our employees. We feel like everybody has a lot of respect for each other here, and that is something we insist on. We try to lead by example. No one here that would not stop and take out trash or pick up something outside that is in the parking lot. I think that just comes naturally, but I think you have to do that by example. 

 

CEOCFO: Would you tell us about giving back to the community? 

Ms. Frene: We definitely donate to a lot of causes, specifically Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the New England Baptist Hospital. Two years ago we had a number of us participate on the Pan Mass Challenge and biked 85 miles to raise money for cancer research. Our team actually achieve “heavy hitter” status for those who raise more than $100,000. We are in the community and we donate to a lot of causes as a company and employees do that as well. One year we had a coat drive, another provided supplies to folks in a nursing home like stamps, paper, gloves, etc.

 

CEOCFO: What is next for TransAction Associates? 

Ms. Frene: We are continuing to grow on the shuttle side, and we just want to keep expanding, but not get so big that we do not know everybody’s name who works here. I think that is important. And just strive to keep the type of atmosphere that is here. When people come in for interviews and they have to sit in the lobby outside for a few minutes, they will come in for their interview and say, “You get such a great vibe when you come into this place.” That is something we just want to strive to keep. 

 

 

“We take care of our clients and our employees. We feel like everybody has a lot of respect for each other here, and that is something we insist on. We try to lead by example.”- Cindy Frené


 

TransAction Associates, Inc.

www.transactionassoc.com

 

Contact:

Michele Brooks

781-895-1100

mbrooks@transactionassoc.com


 

 



 

 


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