We talked to Maria Montaño on the exact date of her one-year anniversary as the President of Britax Americas, an international company that manufactures premium car seats and strollers, and the company that brought her and her family to Charlotte. Rather than recite her impressive resume (which includes stints at Nike and Bugaboo), she prefers to talk about the takeaways. Humble in her words and graced with humility, Maria shares what she’s gained along the way that helps guide her leadership style and keep her grounded. Meet Maria Montaño, today’s FACE of Charlotte.
What has the past year been like for you?
It’s been like drinking from a firehose. Like any new role, it’s about digging in and understanding the company, the people and structure. I spent the first six months taking time to learn about the many products and processes and speak to retailers about strengths and opportunities. The last six months were spent taking those learnings and implementing them across the organization.
How has your professional journey prepared you for this role?
I believe that every job helps prepare you for the next. Since I graduated from business school in 2000 I’ve held a series of leadership roles. Being a leader and working with great leaders has prepared me [to be President of Britax Americas]. You never know what obstacles you’ll face, but what I do know is that if it reaches my desk, it’s complicated or it would have already been solved. I’ve learned to ask a lot of questions to help solve problems. It takes patience, a lot of patience, but it’s required to gain the knowledge you need to make big decisions. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, and you don’t have to have all the answers. The reality is, if you’re coming in with all answers, you’re not tapping into your team’s strengths and experiences.
What spoke to you most about being the President of Britax Americas?
On the professional side, I love what we do here at Britax. We design and manufacture more than 95% of our car seats in Fort Mill, SC. There is a long development process — 18 to 24 months — but we have that ability to make such a big impact, enabling families to travel safely and with peace of mind. On a personal level, I used to live in Raleigh, and I met my husband there when I was working and running a Spanish language TV station. Our first son was born there, and I always felt that I would love to move back to North Carolina someday, and here I am.
Where did you grow up? And where did you most recently move from?
I grew up Sacramento, the youngest of five children. My husband and two sons, ages 7 and 11, and I moved here from Los Angeles, where we had been living for the past three-and-a-half years.
What do you like to do when you have spare time?
Work is pretty demanding, and I have a hectic travel schedule, but I love to hike and read. My husband and I are also amateur chess players — purely a hobby, but a great way to spend time. And since my husband loves to cook, we like to have friends over for dinner. I’m lucky that I get to benefit from his love of cooking.
How do you strike a balance between work and family?
For me, balance is the most elusive thing and, quite honestly, a recipe for disappointment. When I think about balance I get a visual of a scale – put a feather on one side and the balance is off. I’m lucky in that my husband stays home, and I’d like to think that will someday not be so uncommon. It’s a tough job – in fact, when I returned from my first maternity leave, I walked in and told my co-workers that this felt like a vacation! But when I am home with my family, I manage to be fully engaged and present.
Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
We just got back from Park City. We like to go where there is something for everyone. There I could go for a hike, the kids went zip lining, and everyone had a great time. We move around a lot and like to explore new territory, so there’s no one favorite spot we return to year after year just yet.
What’s your best travel tip with children?
Have patience, and don’t forget that one thing they are attached to. For my son, it was a blue blanket. Over time it wound up being just a few blue strings. I wish I had bought two — so my advice, buy two!
What book are you reading right now?
I toggle between books, but right now I’m reading the Red Rising series. I love sci-fi.
Kindle or paper?
Definitely Kindle. I feel guilty buying books.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
A friend once shared with me a Maya Angelou quote that I think is priceless: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without?
Strong coffee, dark chocolate and books.
Thank you to Maria Montaño for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions. And thanks to Piper Warlick Photography for the fabulous photos of Maria shot on location at Britax.
Charlotte is filled with amazing women. Find out about these inspiring people in our FACES archives HERE.