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 UVA because it was close to my home, Fairfax. Little did I know how much UVA 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 UVA professors selected me and felt I had something to contribute.

UVA 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 UVA, and not just the exceptional technical skills but also the interpersonal skills needed to be an effective leader.

John Howard is vice president and director at Celanese. He’s a certified public accountant and certified treasury professional and also a member of Mensa.