When people opt to start their own business, fame and fortune can be two of the biggest motivators. But, for Darrell Ortiz, his inspiration was something different: the freedom to travel.
Ortiz dropped out of college at nineteen to start his own software technology company, CDM Software Solutions, not necessarily because he could make a lot of money but because he’d be able to go wherever he wanted. “I think the decision, growing up in a very small town in Texas, was based on the whole elegance of being able to travel and go places I had never dreamed of going to,” he says.
In the nearly thirty years since, as president and CEO of the company—only the second job he’s ever had in his life—he’s been able to crisscross the globe to help protect America’s ports and track sensitive freight through CDM’s software while remaining intimately involved with the day-to-day nuts and bolts of his operation.
CDM began as a consulting company with just three to four customers, and partly thanks to the grit of its staff, it has become a full-fledged business that employs more than 150 people in six offices around the world. “We have a ‘never say die’ mentality, and through any kind of trials and tribulations, we always forge forward,” Ortiz says.
Today, the company specializes in software applications focused on trade and shipment compliance, helping to ensure air and ocean freight technologies meet the standards put forth in antiterrorism laws created by the government in the post-9/11 era.
“We’ve been mainstr-
eamed in the corporate shipment-compliance, shipment-visibility world for a long time,” Ortiz says. “The Department of Defense technology-solutions side of it is my personal commitment to help our soldiers and country be successful. It’s evolved more out of patriotism than as a business need.”
Despite CDM’s significant growth, though, Ortiz has remained hands-on. He figures if technology isn’t slowing down, why should he? “I love what I do, and I feel that it keeps me young and energized and my mind challenged,” he says. “It keeps you engaged, and technology and global shipment compliance is definitely an industry that is ever changing. If you decide to slack off, you can fall behind.”
“A lot of the things that we do have to do with logistics and being able to track items from point A to point B and give them door-to-door coverage.”
In addition to shipment compliance, he and the company have lately worked with sports organizations, the oil and gas industry, and pharmaceuticals. Its newest product, Cargo Intelligence, is available to a variety of industries and businesses to help track highly volatile, high-visibility items such as weapons, hazmat, radioactive material, diamonds, and human tissue.
“A lot of the things that we do have to do with logistics and being able to track items from point A to point B and give them door-to-door coverage,” Ortiz says.
What’s remarkable about Cargo Intelligence is not just the visibility it offers but also its “ability to provide exception management,” he adds. CDM encountered a scenario in Chicago recently, for instance, where a railcar was pilfered. “If they would have had something similar to our technology,” Ortiz says, “it could have helped reduce or eliminate the commodity loss.”
While Ortiz is forward thinking when it comes to technological advances, his management style is, as he describes it, “old school.” He and his team visit customers on-site to walk through their processes and see their reactions to recommended solutions—things that can’t necessarily be done over a conference call or video chat. “For me, that is very important,” Ortiz says. “It shows the customers that you are truly engaged and want to be part of their success.”
The only thing Ortiz steps back from work for is his family. It can be challenging to allocate enough time to work, engage with his family, and sleep, but it’s a challenge he’s happy to face. “I started my family later in life, so I do want to try to spend as much time as I can with them,” he says. “It’s very important to me. It’s very relaxing to me to be engaged with my family. It gives me an escape and inspires me to continue on with what I’m doing and be successful.”
On the occasions Ortiz isn’t running his business or spending time with family, he lends his expertise at various speaking engagements, where his advice doesn’t stray too far from the codes he followed to build his own company from nothing.
“I keep it as simple as possible,” Ortiz says. “We’re all about executing our plan of action, and I feel that no matter what business you are in, if you set your process flow, execute it, and follow that through, I believe that helps. Challenge yourself on a daily basis to want to be a better person in every way possible, whether that has to do with your company, family, or environment.”