If somebody had told me in high school that I would be in charge of $3.5 billion in revenue for one of America’s largest companies, I would have laughed. Many others who knew me at that time would also have been amused.

Like most kids, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. When I started college, I majored in anything but studying, especially since my dad paid for it—the first time. That experience came to a rapid stop after the end of my first year, so I took some time off to contemplate the meaning of life, worked a full-time job, and attended community college.

Once I had enough credits and was more serious about studying, I transferred into U.Va. because it was close to my home, Fairfax. Little did I know how much U.Va. would prepare me for my career in accounting and management. I was more serious about making sense of my life because it was on my dime, not my dad’s. I graduated from the McIntire School of Commerce with a B.S. in accounting, and I stayed another year to get my M.S. in accounting.

John Howard
As part of my master’s program, I was one of eight students who taught undergrad accounting to first and second years. I was lucky that U.Va. professors selected me and felt I had something to contribute.

U.Va. provided two important skills that help in my current role at Celanese. I learned how to work on teams, practicing diplomacy, negotiation, influencing, teamwork and conflict resolution. Second, I received excellent technical training in accounting and business.

These skills enabled me to secure an accounting job with one of the Big 6 (now Big 4) accounting firms, which led to a job at another Big 6 firm. One bonus was meeting my future wife at the first firm. Who says that accountants can’t find love in the numbers? Then I took a tax manager role at Reichhold, a manufacturer of resins and composites, and advanced my career, eventually becoming the director of corporate finance.

In 2008, I joined Celanese as vice president of global tax. Again, I expanded my career into treasury, transaction services and, presently work as the vice president and director of business planning & analysis for the Acetyl Intermediates business. We engineer and manufacture a variety of products essential to everyday living such as paints, adhesives, pharmaceuticals and plastics. Our division developed a new technology to produce ethanol from feedstocks that has the potential to lessen the global fuel shortage. My team and I are responsible for managing more than $3.5 billion in revenue in a highly complex and competitive arena.

Even though I’m in Texas now where fellow Cavaliers are few and far between, I continue to appreciate the training I received at U.Va., and not just the exceptional technical skills but also the interpersonal skills needed to be an effective leader.