O'Keefe in the News

Going Places: Katie Montague

Going Places: Katie Montague

December 10, 2019

Senior Associate, O’Keefe | TMA Member: Two years

As published in TMA’s Journal of Corporate Renewal

Q: How did you gravitate into turnaround/restructuring work?
MONTAGUE: I originally wanted to be a lawyer, before I started college. When I was in college, I realized I really enjoyed my accounting and finance classes, so I decided to stick with it. Also, as an undergrad, I worked at a law firm and a bankruptcy trustee’s office, and I decided I didn’t want to go to law school anymore. I thought that left me with only two options, audit or tax. I decided audit was for me because I’d get to interact with clients and not be in the office every day.

After a couple busy seasons, I didn’t think audit was for me long term. My dad’s a bankruptcy attorney. He suggested that I talk to a consultant he knew who was in the turnaround space. I got breakfast with that consultant, and he told me all about litigation support, M&A, and turnaround and restructuring work. I thanked him for telling me about all the opportunities out there for CPAs and went back to my job as an auditor.

Next, I went into the corporate world and worked as an assistant controller for a while. While I was there, the consultant I had breakfast with called me for an interview. I had missed interacting with clients and being in different industries, so I took the interview. It went really well, and I got the job. That consultant, Pat O’Keefe, is now my boss. I started working in the turnaround space with him.

I am happy to be back working with clients, and I really enjoy the problem-solving aspects of the work. It is very rewarding to work with creditors, companies, and attorneys to come up with a solution that works for everyone. That’s how I ended up in this turnaround and consulting space.

Q: It seems like everybody gets there almost by accident.
MONTAGUE: Exactly. If you had asked me five years ago, I probably really didn’t know what a turnaround consultant was.

Q: What have been some of your favorite, gratifying, or important engagements?
MONTAGUE: Recently, there was a large bankruptcy filing in Detroit, and my firm acted as the financial advisor to the creditors’ committee. It was a fun engagement because it was such a big one that there were many Detroit turnaround professionals on it. There were so many people who I’d met through TMA, and I finally got to work directly with them.

There were some really difficult circumstances in that case and a lot of parties involved, and we worked with the committee to develop a plan to put the company back on track. The creditors were paid 80 cents on the dollar. The company was able to continue operating instead of liquidating. It was a win-win situation for everyone. It was a happy ending, which a lot of times you don’t get with these kinds of engagements. It was fun being able to work with all these people I met through TMA and have a positive outcome for everyone.

Q: Any other engagements come to mind that were favorites or particularly gratifying?
MONTAGUE: Some of the smaller engagements where you get to work with the CEO of maybe a small family business are gratifying. Those are fun because you get to help them through something that is really meaningful to them. It’s not just another job, it’s their family company, and I really enjoy working on those types of engagements.

Q: It’s not just a company to them.
MONTAGUE: It’s their entire life.

Q: What have been some of the milestones in your career that have helped make you the professional you are today?
MONTAGUE: I think the biggest one was working as an auditor in the middle market. It helped me develop a lot of the hard and soft skills I needed to be a turnaround consultant. Working in the middle market, I was able to work on all the different aspects of an audit, and I was able to work directly with CEOs and CFOs and see various industries, like manufacturing, obviously, in Detroit but also construction, financial services, and not-for-profits. I had exposure to all these different industries and clients early on in my career, and I think that makes me a stronger advisor to my clients today. Everything I learned back then is really relevant to the work I do today in the turnaround space.

Q: What role has TMA played in your career?
MONTAGUE: TMA’s been invaluable to me. When I started at my firm, I didn’t know many people in the turnaround industry, so I decided to become active in an organization to get exposure to some of them. I joined TMA based on a recommendation from my boss. Almost immediately, a lot of the members, especially the women, were helpful in getting me involved and introducing me to new people. The turnaround industry in Detroit is pretty tightknit, so it gave me an opportunity to develop valuable relationships, and they’re people I now work with on engagements.

I think knowing the people you work with on these difficult engagements ahead of time is really helpful and makes the job more enjoyable. It makes the job more efficient and effective because you already know them and how they work.

TMA also has given me a lot of leadership opportunities. I chair the Network of Women, the TMA Now Committee in Detroit, and plan our annual golf outing. TMA is full of opportunities that I’ve been able to take advantage of.

Q: How long have you been a TMA member?
MONTAGUE: A little over two years. I joined when I started with the firm.

Q: You jumped right in?
MONTAGUE: I jumped right in, and a lot of the women, especially, encouraged me to get involved and stay involved.

Q: That’s key. Some members come and go, and they wonder why TMA didn’t meet their expectations. Usually, it’s because they only go to a meeting once every six months and don’t otherwise get involved in the chapter.
MONTAGUE: Exactly. If you come for a cocktail once every few months, that’s not going to lead to meaningful relationships. I think with my being involved with the committees, people can see my work ethic and how I interact with people without having to actually work on an engagement with me. They’re more likely to want to work with me in the future because they already know how I work on a committee or put something together.

Q: And it keeps you involved regularly. When people see you regularly, you’re more likely to come to mind when they need somebody in an engagement.
MONTAGUE: Absolutely. I see people almost weekly.

Q: What advice would you have for someone who’s new to the industry or was thinking about getting into the industry?
MONTAGUE: I would say TMA is full of opportunities, and you should get involved and stay involved with it because the personal and professional relationships you can develop are really valuable. You become top of mind for people because you’re interacting with them often.

There are tons of leadership opportunities for people of all experience levels, so don’t wait until you think you have enough experience or know enough people. Getting involved and taking advantage of those opportunities will get you to where you need to be.

Q: What are you passionate about outside the office?
MONTAGUE: Definitely traveling. I spend most of my free time planning my next trip, wherever that might be. After I got my master’s degree in accounting, I backpacked around Europe and a little bit of Africa for almost four months by myself. That was an awesome experience.

Last year, I got married, and my husband and I went to Croatia and Italy for our honeymoon. In Croatia, we rented a car and drove to Montenegro and Bosnia for day trips. We’re planning a trip to Thailand and Cambodia this December, and then in April I’ll be studying abroad for my MBA program in Dubai and Mumbai. I really love being immersed in different cultures and seeing how people across the world live their lives.

Q: What have been some of your favorite trips?
MONTAGUE: Backpacking by myself was amazing.

Q: That must have terrified your parents.
MONTAGUE: It did. It was terrifying to me also, though, going on my own. To force myself to do it, I bought a really expensive three-month Eurail pass. Once I bought it, I thought, “OK, I have to go now.” I had people visit me along the way. It was terrifying, and it was so much fun. I’m so glad I did it.

Q: What experiences did you encounter that you maybe wouldn’t have if you weren’t traveling alone?
MONTAGUE: I got to meet people from all across the world. I stayed in hostels by myself to meet people, so now I have friends in Brazil and Australia and the Netherlands and Denmark. I don’t think that I would have met those people if I hadn’t been by myself, because I would have been too comfortable spending time with people I was traveling with.

Q: Do you still keep in touch with those people?
MONTAGUE: Yes. Not frequently, but we’re friends on social media, and we send messages here and there. We stay in touch.

Q: Your travels probably give you a much broader perspective than the average person has.
MONTAGUE: Absolutely. I definitely have a bigger perspective, and I think I approach things differently because of all my travels.

Q: I noticed when you were naming locations, a number of them were off the beaten path.
MONTAGUE: I like going places where the culture is completely different, where maybe not everyone speaks English. I like being exposed to different things, like food architecture, and language. I don’t want to go somewhere that’s the same as my hometown. I want go somewhere that’s scary, maybe, and different, and I have to figure out what’s going on in the culture. The fun part of traveling for me is being immersed in something completely different.

Q: How did you manage when there was a language barrier? How were you able to communicate?
MONTAGUE: You try to find a few common words. You just figure it out. Maybe you find someone who can be a translator for you, so you meet someone new and develop that relationship. But there’s a lot of pictures, pointing, hand gestures—those all help.

Q: Any other passions outside the office?
MONTAGUE: I’m so busy right now. I’m doing an MBA program, so I work and then I go to school and I plan my next vacation. I have a dog, and we spend a lot of time with him. We go up north to my family’s lake house in the summer. I have been really into spin classes at my gym lately. It’s been a great outlet to relieve stress and is an opportunity to take an hour for myself.

Q: What might people who only know you professionally be most surprised to learn about you?
MONTAGUE: I was really close with my grandma, who passed away on October 24. She was a World War II survivor. She was taken from her family in Ukraine when she was 18. She was a prisoner in a labor camp in Germany and then came to the U.S. with my grandpa a few years after the war. They learned to be farmers from some fellow immigrants and eventually got their own turkey farm in Michigan.

My grandfather passed away when I was just a few months old, so my grandma moved in with us and helped raise and take care of me. When I was growing up, we would take trips to the farm. She taught me how to drive a tractor, how to drive a car when I was 10 years old. Some of my favorite memories are with her, and I credit her with my career choice, my love of numbers, and with becoming the professional I am today. She was so driven and went through so much in her life, and she still was the hardest worker I’ve ever seen.

At night, I used to sneak into her bedroom when I was really little, and she would quiz me in math. One of her favorite stories to tell was that she asked me to count to 100 and I said, “Grandma, that’s too easy. I can count to 1 million.” I just think those experiences are what made me the professional I am today.

Q: She was quite an example.
MONTAGUE: I think of everything she went through, and she still, at 95 years old, was active. “Do you have any laundry I can do? Can I wash some dishes?” she’d ask. She just always wanted to work, and I feel like that’s why I always want to work and do more and develop and grow constantly because I saw her do that every day.

Q: It sounds like she was on the go right up to the end.
MONTAGUE: She was. That’s just who she was. She’d always say, “If it’s got to be done, it’s got to be done.”

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?
MONTAGUE: I always want to grow and develop, and I think that’s really important in a turnaround career. Don’t stay stagnate. As I mentioned, I’m getting my MBA right now. I’m always searching for new opportunities and new ways to grow and to develop myself professionally, and I think that’s really important for everyone to keep in mind.

Q: Especially in this field. Bankruptcy changed completely.
MONTAGUE: Everything changes constantly, and you need to stay ahead of the game.