From Ethiopian farm boy to Minnesota entrepreneur, Here’s how Tashitaa Tufaa is building his Minnesota transportation company with integrity and trusted partner KA Insurance
Growing up as one of 14 children on a subsistence farm in the Oromo region of Ethiopia, Tashitaa Tufaa dreamed of becoming a diplomat. Today, as founder and president of Metropolitan Transportation Network (MTN), he says that’s what happened.
“I use my diplomacy skills every day,” said Tufaa.” I’m negotiating and networking all the time in this business.”
Logo of the Minneapolis Transportation Company Metropolitan Transportation NetworkTufaa’s business is the Metropolitan Transportation Network (MTN). As president and CEO of the Minnesota transportation company he started 15 years ago with one taxicab and his wife’s minivan, Tufaa today employees over 300 people and operates 300 buses that carry 15,000 passengers daily for school districts in the Minneapolis, St. Cloud, and Sauk Rapids Districts. Throughout a career that has worked through seemingly impossible difficulties, Tufaa has found success through his optimistic vision, determination, hard work and strong business partnerships.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Andrews University in Zimbabwe, Tufaa arrived in Minnesota in 1992 as a political refugee, enrolling at the University of Minnesota and working a variety of dish washing, bus driving and custodial jobs on his way to a master’s degree in political science and international relations. After that, he worked as a civil servant, driving shuttles and taxis on weekends to supplement his income; until he decided to start his own transportation business in 2003. He and his brother hand-delivered letters of introduction to schools to pitch his business, and after a lot of rejections, someone took a chance on him. Dale Carlstrom, the director of facilities and transportation at Osseo School District, gave Tufaa the job of transporting three homeless children in his wife’s minivan. When Tufaa proved reliable, the District rewarded him with more work; and with one school district on board, more soon followed. By 2006, the company was in a position to purchase its first school bus. Today MTN operates 300 buses, serving multiple districts in the metro including 90 routes in the Minneapolis District alone. The fleet is maintained by its own technicians in its Fridley, MN facility.
A PROACTIVE, PROTECTIVE AND PUNCTUAL MINNESOTA TRANSPORTATION COMPANY
MTN is proactive and protective of the children entrusted to its care, including many with behavioral issues and disabilities. Safety and punctuality are priorities. Drivers are paid to wait at the curb to ensure that every passenger is safely delivered home. MTN buses were among the first to use surveillance cameras and GPS tracking units, catching accidents and protecting children. And his buses score very high for maintenance. Tufaa himself continues to drive bus every day, staying close to the core of the work.
A TRUSTED BUSINESS PARTNERSHIP
As his business grows, Tufaa has turned to trusted business partners such as Kraus-Anderson Insurance for assistance. In 2012, the year the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (Meda) named Tufaa Entrepreneur of the Year, he began working with KA Insurance for assistance with his workers comp program. Working with Matt Broderson, director of the COMPTROL Division of Kraus-Anderson Insurance, MTN began leveraging COMPTROL’s claims management, experience modification auditing and partnering with Occupational Health Clinics for improved outcomes on injury/rehabilitation management, resulting in a steadily decreasing XMOD over the past five years.
“MTN’s premiums have been cut, on a net rate basis, by over 60% in the past five years,” said Broderson. “While exposures have increased dramatically—over 100 % since 2012—the rates have continued to decrease.”
Working with KA Insurance’s array of services, MTN has also
- Implemented safety protocols that increase safety awareness and drive employee productivity.
- Developed an HR program with stringent screening measures put in place in the hiring process to filter out poor candidates.
- Developed light duty protocols for injured employees to get them back to work faster, thus lowering claim costs.
- Partnered with local Occupational Health Clinics, leading to better outcomes on injury/rehabilitation management
- Closed unnecessary open worker comp claims and reduced reserves to lower the XMOD.
And, “As a result of MTN’s improved experience mod, we were able to bring them to the strongest insurance market for transportation firms, Western National,” said Broderson.
Working with trusted business partners frees Tufaa to pursue what he does best, i.e. build his business. Even as his school fleet grows, he is setting his sights on developing a public transportation service arm to his Minnesota transportation company.
Tufaa’s optimism and life experience also make him a caring employer and mentor, as he seeks to provide encouragement and opportunity to others. MTN’s employee appreciation efforts include an annual banquet, weekly prepared breakfast for drivers, celebrations, and simple gratitude. Through his mentorship, several former employees have started their own businesses. After all he’s overcome, is he concerned about the competition?
“If you do it right, there is enough business,” Tufaa believes.