ITA Spotlight: C.J. Montano, Managing Director and Partner, Forte Group
Friday, September 6, 2019
Posted by: Gary Hotze
C.J. Montano, Managing Director and Partner, Forte Group
Meet C.J. Montano, Managing Director and Partner at Forte Group, a custom software delivery company in Chicago. C.J. will lead a roundtable discussion at the ITA’s Technology Executive Leadership Exchange this fall. In this interview, C.J. gives his thoughts on the Chicago tech community, why he left big tech, and what he expects from the Technology Executive Leadership Exchange.
Chicagoan by birth or relocation?
I grew up in Elmwood Park, where I was born and raised. Later, I moved out to the Northwest suburbs, in Crystal Lake, where I live today. In between, I spent some time on the east coast, attending Choate Rosemary Hall Prep, then Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) for college, and working at my first job. Ultimately, though, my heart and my family was in Chicago, so that’s why I came back here.
What do you like most about Chicago and the suburbs?
What I like most about Chicago is the hard-working nature of the people that live and work here. The people here cut through the drama and the things that aren’t important to get to the truth. I think Chicagoans are willing to do the work that those in many other cities around the world don’t want to do. There’s very little entitlement in Chicago. It’s very much the city built on broad shoulders, and I love that.
How did you come to work with Forte Group?
For about 15 years, I worked in leadership positions at several software organizations in Chicago—Echo Global Logistics, kCura (now Relativity) and CME Group, among others. In those experiences, I was able to work in quite a few disciplines: software engineering, quality assurance, test automation, and product/project/portfolio management. Through that experience, I learned that what I enjoyed most was helping organizations establish sustainable practices around software engineering: predictable, valuable delivery of software.
So, I decided to go in the direction of consulting and started a little software firm called Agile Unicorn. My thought was, “I can help a lot of organizations and educate them with a practice, whereas I’m only helping one if I work for a single organization.”
Agile Unicorn took off pretty quickly, and I came to work closely with Forte Group because they had a strong pool of talent. My whole value proposition is outcomes, and so it was a natural collaboration: Forte provided the talented people, we provided the leadership and the outcomes. After working together for a few years, we decided it would make the most sense to work together formally. I joined Forte Group to lead our services and solutions practices. With the backing of Forte’s teams—we have more than 500 employees around the world—I can help even more organizations with their software development practices. So here I am!
What prompted the move to start your own custom software development practice?
It was another challenge. I realized that this is what I love and enjoy doing. Agile was a big part of it, too. It helped create a framework around solving problems, delivering, and getting frequent feedback that really resonates with me, and not just with software development. Whether it’s your own technical growth, specific educational needs, or desire to make a great product—agile provides an excellent framework for continuous improvement.
That was one of the big things that pushed me into starting my own business and consulting. One thing I’ve always been passionate about is motivation. When you’re able to motivate—to inspire people to do their best work—you empower people to solve problems and be creative. As a leader, l always felt that “happy people are motivated and motivated people are productive.” Every organization I’ve worked for has benefited from this concept, and I thought, “it’s time to create a business out of this idea.”
What do you enjoy most about what you do now, at Forte Group?
I’m really fortunate to be able to work with such a diverse group of people. Forte has gender and cultural diversity, but it also has people who have a great variety of life experience. That brings a lot of satisfaction and learning back to me because I’m always adjusting my way of thinking because I’m able to learn and appreciate a new perspective. Forte is one of the most diverse software development agencies in Chicago. That not only makes us a better organization to work for, but it also makes us better at what we do.
What’s your outlook on the Chicago tech industry?
There’s a blue-collar nature to Chicago that’s unique. It’s a city born out of hard work and pragmatism, which I love.
But there isn’t a lot of flash to Chicago’s tech scene—we don’t have the Teslas and the Facebooks. You don’t see a lot of Chicago tech leaders talking to presidents or keynoting at tech consortiums. We don’t get the glitz and glamour—we’re the workhorse underneath. I love that about Chicago, and that’s one of the reasons I choose to work and live here.
But that can also be a hindrance. When it comes to solving some of the world’s problems, it would be nice to see Chicago recognized as a thought leader in addition to being the workhorse.
What is the coolest thing you’ve developed or project you’ve worked on?
That would have to be the electronic exchange at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. This was around 2002 or 2003, when no one completely understood what an exchange did, particularly a commodities exchange. We built an electronic exchange that became a centralized risk management platform on which the world can manage its risk.
A lot of our ability to recover from the last recession had to do with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange being a reliable risk management system. It ensured that the value of a commodity was truthful and honest. To this day, it’s where the world manages its risk. I got to be a part of that—and it started with a small group of us—which is pretty cool.
You’re moderating a leadership roundtable with the ITA this fall. Tell us about that.
I think it’ll be a thought-provoking discussion. Many of the technology leaders in Chicago I speak with share some of the same frustrations: “How do we improve our massive turnover problem?”, or “How do we get out of maintenance mode and start innovating?” These are just a couple of the common frustrations I hear, and it’ll be insightful to learn what technology leaders in Chicago think is the solution to these and other challenges. It’ll be a great discussion—I’m looking forward to it!
Join us for our fall Technology Executive Leadership Exchange, exclusively for Tech, Enterprise, and IT Executives from growth-stage technology companies. This is a casual event where executives can discuss current issues, network, share, and get inspired by others. The night will feature a conversation around tackling the frustrations of a CTO, led by C.J. Montano, Managing Director and Partner at Forte Group.
Thursday, October 10
5:30-8:00pm | Check-in and networking 5:30 - 6:00, dinner promptly at 6:00pm
No cost to attend, just your presence and RSVP are requested
Sign up here.