Fran Early has cultivated a unique combination of corporate, board and volunteer experience in her more than five decades of work in the private and public sectors.
Growing up an only child in a small country town in Virginia, Fran feels fortunate that she got to know people different from herself. It was a special treat to ride the school bus with a first grade friend, to climb up the long path through the woods to her friend’s house, to eat her mom’s cookies and to light lanterns instead of flipping a switch. Only as an adult did she begin to realize how that experience and others like it were formative in her lifelong desire to know people from every walk of life.
The 1954 school desegregation decision first opened her eyes to the segregated world she lived in. It was all she had known. Now she thinks that may be the epiphany that led to her life-long commitment to integration and affirmative action starting in college
She arrived in Boston, a philosophy major with no typing skills, open to any job possibility, preferably not in a conservative bank or insurance company. Thirty years later she retired from Prudential Insurance Company having never had a conservative job.
During the early years in Personnel, circumstances gave her the opportunity to create innovative programs ranging from hiring ex-offenders to a program for mothers who could work part time while their children were in school. She created a complaint system for employees and a homemade version of an “employee assistance” program, both helping to retain employees. She led a “job enrichment” initiative where she and her staff were internal consultants helping management teams restructure the jobs so that individual employees had more control over their own work. This effort, along with the Total Quality Process she led many years later, improved both employee and customer satisfaction while reducing expenses. Both taught Fran that “ownership” by all the players is at the core of most successful change…that people on the ground know things about how to be effective that those making decisions for them couldn’t possibly know.
Fran’s experience as a change agent and her love of a challenge may explain how, after fourteen years in Boston, she ended up transferring to Prudential’s Southwestern Home Office in Houston. It was a time of tumultuous change there. As Personnel Manager and the Affirmative Action Officer in Boston, she had been proud of the work throughout the organization that had produced favorable federal compliance reviews and had prevented all but two discrimination charges. In Houston, as Personnel Director and the first female executive, she found herself responsible for several class action suits and approximately forty discrimination charges along with a multitude of other challenges.
Over time, Fran worked for six different Prudential organizations in four states and in a variety of assignments including operations management, marketing and public affairs. She was Vice President of Public Affairs for the property and casualty company headquartered in New Jersey, at a time when auto insurance there was under siege. Prudential’s creative solution was the result of senior management talking to and working with stakeholders, including many internal and external competing forces. The benefit of collaboration has been central throughout Fran’s career and beyond.
In a company-wide reorganization, Fran transferred back to Boston, her original city of choice before taking advantage of the amazing opportunity to retire at age 54 with a full age sixty pension.
In retirement Fran determined to get involved only in activities, for which she had a deep passion. She found herself drawn to the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) which in 1996 was only a gleam in the eye of a small group of clergy. As a leader at Trinity Episcopal Church, she became fully involved in the founding of GBIO, which is now comprised of some fifty congregations from nearly every race, ethnic group, class and faith across metropolitan Boston. Fran thrived on the opportunity to build those relationships and was inspired by the change that can occur when many diverse people come together around an issue on which they can all agree.
She was a key leader in the campaign that won a $100,000,000 trust for affordable housing in Massachusetts and participated in the campaign that led to that state’s healthcare reform. As a volunteer organizer on staff, she enjoyed working with teens and their moms in a public housing development to win public space for an after school program. While supporting a variety of congregations in building their leadership teams, she also developed and helped teach a degree granting course on biblical justice, faith and community organizing for the Center for Urban Ministerial Education of Gordon Conwell, an evangelical seminary. It was when GBIO sent her to Guatemala to learn Spanish that she fell in love with Guatemala and her people.
Fran’s volunteer work over the years has ranged from tutoring and mentoring teens in public housing and counseling prisoners on job hunting to serving on a wide variety of boards. In Houston she was an officer of the board of one of the largest United Ways in the US with oversight responsibility for planning, allocations, information services and research. She served as conflict mediator and management consultant to the board and staff of Armand Bayou Nature Center in Clear Lake, Texas during a time of revitalization. Fran helped found and chaired the Mission Outreach Council at Christ Church Cathedral as well as an organization that provided practical assistance which helped homeless individuals find jobs and housing. In New Jersey she was on the board of Bayshore Hospital and Big Brother-Big Sister. She started a small group program that built stronger relationships in her church where she was also a member of the vestry.
As Fran returned to Guatemala every year to work on her Spanish and watched the plethora of non-profits and volunteers of all stripes, she began to see striking examples of how the best of intentions can play out in wonderful and awful ways. She recognized similar patterns to those she’d seen in both her volunteer and her corporate work. As she and Connie, who lived next door, talked about these things, she was inspired by Connie’s work with a micro lending project. Together they shared an active appreciation of and faith in the people they knew in villages in the Guatemalan highlands. They wanted to understand better how the people on the receiving end of so much good will viewed the efforts to help them. And that’s how the book, Doing Good…Says Who? began.