By Bella Butler
BIG SKY – In April, the Big Sky Community Organization welcomed a new CEO, Whitney Montgomery, into its leadership ranks.
Long before taking the position at BSCO, Montgomery’s upbringing groomed him to be a lover of the outdoors. His father, a Presbyterian minister and college professor, and his mother, also an educator, would load their family of six in aluminum canoes and paddle down the rivers of east Tennessee where they lived.
Montgomery says he was still in diapers when he went on his first camping trip. “My parents even put a harness around me and tied me to a tree so I wouldn’t wander off,” he recalled in an interview with Explore Big Sky.
“[I] really was fortunate to have a family that put service to others at the top of the priority list for vocations, and then also a real commitment to being outdoors and connected with nature,” he said.
The values imbued in Montgomery by his parents and childhood experiences translated directly to his professional life in which he worked as a headmaster for a school in Kenya and as a grant writer for a health care organization.
After that, Montgomery stepped into the for-profit sector when he started a restaurant, Just Fresh, a quick-service adaptation of a healthy bakery café and market. Just Fresh started in Charlotte, North Carolina and Montgomery eventually grew the business to a chain with locations up and down the East Coast.
Following 13 years with Just Fresh, Montgomery returned to the outdoors and education, working for 15 years as the executive director of the North Carolina Outward Bound School, an experiential outdoor education program.
Next to his professional experience, Montgomery has a colorful adventure resume. During and after his time at Davidson College in North Carolina, he lived in Colorado, Alaska and the U.S. Virgin Islands working in the ski and salmon industries and on charter boats. These days, he enjoys skiing, mountain biking and hiking.
Much of his work has been in growing the companies and nonprofits he’s worked for, a skill that both he and BSCO board members believe will serve the Big Sky nonprofit well with big projects like the opening of BASE, the new community center.
“BSCO is at a place now where it’s getting ready to really take off, and so it’s an opportunity for me to combine skills that I’ve learned over the years and put it into a real community-based organization,” Montgomery said.
Tallie Lancey, BSCO board vice chair, said Montgomery’s past managerial and fundraising experience, his entrepreneurial success and strong recommendations from past board members made him “far and away the best candidate.”
“We learned quickly that he’s a big picture guy who also isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty,” Lancey wrote in an email to EBS.
Montgomery said he hopes to continue working on many BSCO priorities, like protecting open space for public use as well as maintaining trails as visitation to Big Sky grows.
More broadly, the new CEO will also be focusing on objectives that will be newer to the community organization with the introduction of indoor recreation managed by BSCO when BASE is open.
“One of those strategic decisions that needs to be made is how we maintain growth with indoor recreation and continue to expand the outdoor recreation opportunities,” he said. He added that based on growing community interest in volunteering, he’ll be thinking about how to organize and professionalize local volunteer opportunities.
“In his rapid fire introduction to Big Sky, Whitney has perceptively identified our biggest opportunities to enhance connectivity, which is at the core of our vision,” Lancey wrote.
Montgomery, who has three grown children, is excited by BSCO’s focus on community and the opportunity to work and live alongside board members, donors, staff and volunteers.
“In this day and age, I think it’s lost upon many of us to focus on building community, and that is what is important to me,” he said.