Accounting Today’s September Accountant of the Month Maria Montie found her self-described “tipping point” at hundreds of feet in the air.

First intrigued by rock climbing when a new climbing wall was introduced at her local Michigan recreation center, Montie was soon climbing mountain peaks in seven different states, and then felt inspired to delve into several other physically strenuous hobbies.

[IMGCAP(1)]“It expanded what I do physically,” Montie said, citing water rafting, boot camps, Warrior Dash obstacle races, archery and the popular fitness program CrossFit as some of the activities that grew out of her passion for heights. “With rock climbing, it was ‘wow, I can do this’ and it opened my eyes to try other things. It’s like eating new food or trying out new things to find things that fit me.”

They also had to fit her role as managing partner of Novi, Mich.-based accounting firm ShindelRock. Montie, who has been with the firm for 18 years and a partner for seven, didn’t waste any time in finding that balance, beginning her rock-climbing career with visits to the rec center during the tax season of 2003.

The next spring, she traveled with a guide to Red Rock Canyon, 30 miles west of Las Vegas, climbing those high, multi-pitch routes for a couple of long 8 am to 6 pm days.

“I couldn’t stop talking about it when I got back,” Montie recalled, finding a particular confidante in a mountain-climbing senior partner who had first encouraged her to scale new terrain. Though rock and mountain climbing are different sports, she points out, the passion alone formed the kind of bond she also shares with the rest of her extracurricular-minded staff of 20.

“People here do a variety of things,” she shared. “We have people who sail, people who do CrossFit, marathoners.”

Montie, whose own CrossFit workouts include flipping tires and a recent personal-best deadlift of 235 pounds, not only swaps stories with colleagues but clients.

Her rock-climbing trips to mountains in Washington, Wyoming (where the Tetons are a personal favorite), California, Nevada and her home state of Michigan, usually with her daughter—who just started college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor but was 10 on their first mother-daughter expedition—are displayed in her office on two computer monitors, prompting discussion during meetings.

[IMGCAP(2)]“I point it out, get it in the conversation that I [rock climb], and it sets me apart, not necessarily from other accountants, but from clients’ stereotypes,” Montie explained. “It makes me more unique than the next person they interview. The reaction is, ‘Wow, really?’”

Montie hopes to add to her impressive photo collection of mountain peaks while continuing to set an example of work-life balance.

“Where I work, there is really good flexibility, and as the managing partner, I practice what I preach,” she said. She is scheduling her next trip, as she usually does, for early next tax season.
“We have really good people here, and if they want to get ahold of me, they can,” she said, adding that it becomes tricky during her tallest climbs, full-day events that reach 1,000 feet under the weight of her 50-pound pack. “To disassociate for ‘x’ period of time is fun stuff. When I’m rock climbing, even if I want to take my cell phone out there—it’s not going to work.”