Maria Pitol, who was born and raised in Brazil, was surprised when she arrived in Orange County about 15 years ago.
“I didn’t expect the United States to be as embracing as it was, at least with me,” Pitol told the Business Journal.
“I was fortunate to be in an environment in Orange County where I had opportunities that made me stay here—opportunities that I didn’t have in my country, business-wise and career-wise.
“At the risk of sounding cliché, I really conquered my American dream.”
That dream was confirmed on May 5 when Pitol won the Rising Star Award at the Business Journal’s 15th annual CFO of the Year Awards.
Pitol is senior vice president and corporate controller for Montrose Environmental Group Inc. (NYSE: MEG), which has built itself into one of the country’s largest environmental services firms thanks to an aggressive roll-up strategy.
The company, founded in 2012, provides an assortment of environmental consulting work, including measurements and analytics, planning and permitting, environmental solutions, and waste-to-resources.
Pitol is responsible for the company’s controllership, compliance, treasury, audit, and financial reporting functions. She’s overseen 55 acquisitions at the company, including seven in the past year while working remotely.
“This year’s winner is truly a standout,” Mike Kelly, a co-founder of the Conexus recruiting firm, said at the awards ceremony to introduce her.
“She learned the value of hard work—and that having weekends off is way overrated.”
Pitol, who joined Montrose in 2015, helped the company go public in 2020. Its shares have risen from an IPO price of $16 to as high as $80 last November; at press time, they traded around $40 for a $1.2 billion market cap.
“She made a tremendous impact on one of our county’s most successful IPOs,” Kelly told the audience of almost 700.
Pitol grew up in São Paulo, where her parents emphasized the value of learning a second language; she started learning English around age 7 in after-school programs.
That focus on education led her to not only become an expert in accounting, but also to obtain a degree in law from Pontificia Universidade Catolica de São Paulo, with a concentration in economics. She is also a member of the Brazilian Bar Association and has an MBA from Fundação Getulio Vargas.
Her career began as a consultant at the São Paulo office of Deloitte, where she conducted audits and planned foreign capital structures. She then went to work for aerospace firm C&D Zodiac, which builds interior systems for aircrafts.
She was at C&D when she transferred to its offices in Orange County, where she managed multiple projects and teams nationally and internationally and eventually became its controller.
Then an opportunity arose to work as a controller for ES Engineering, an environmental consulting firm that she described as “a completely different industry.”
“I decided to take another job because I felt welcomed,” Pitol said.
In 2015, ES Engineering was acquired by Montrose, which was a few years into its acquisition push. Its sales have tripled in the past five years, growing 66% alone in 2021 to $546.4 million.
She has a team of approximately 20 team members in the United States and overseas. Pitol is also part of the company’s Diversity, Fairness, and Inclusion Committee and a mentor in the company’s Women in Business mentorship program.
Positive on OC
At Montrose, she’s led the centralization of the company’s accounting functions, such as streamlining the close period of an acquisition from over 30 days to seven business days. She leveraged automation and lean practices in the accounting department to allow the company to add over $150 million to its top line without increasing the accounting headcount.
She consolidated more than 35 bank accounts into six operating accounts and coordinated the administrative work to set up the company’s operations in Europe, with offices in Germany and Sweden. She’s responsible for the compliance and financial portions of the company’s global ERP migration to Workday in 2020. The next year she implemented a SOX compliance program.
Montrose last year announced it was moving its headquarters designation to Arkansas to be closer to some of its customers, and where one of its largest units is based. Not all its executive team is making the move.
Pitol said she intends to continue working at its Irvine office.
“That’s the beauty of Montrose—it allows us flexibility,” Pitol said. “There is so much positive in Orange County.”