International Risks, International Benefits
Heather Khan, BSBA Accounting ’97 and Executive MBA ’06
Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Agency for International Development
By Liz Warren-Pederson
Heather Khan is a second-generation UA alum — her father came to Tucson from India to earn his master’s in mining engineering, and then earned his Eller MBA. Khan grew up in Montana, but visited him in Arizona often, and he hoped she would follow in his footsteps.
“I was offered a full-ride scholarship to either of the state universities in Montana, and I told my dad that I was applying to Washington and Stanford,” she said. “But it was just a little kidding — the only school I considered was UA, and it was the only one I applied to. Good thing I was accepted!”
Early on, Khan aimed set her sights on pre-med and expected to go into pediatrics, but her goals shifted along the way. She earned her BSBA in accounting, then joined Arthur Andersen in Phoenix. “I worked in the tax practice, which built tax departments for clients,” she said. “I also worked on process efficiency projects. I loved the work.”
In 2002, she accepted a position in Callaway Golf’s corporate tax department in San Diego.”The vice president of tax was (and still is) a visionary in ensuring that a large, multinational corporation integrates the intricacies of tax at the front end of its business planning,” she said.
Khan had always intended to earn her MBA, but didn’t want to leave work for a traditional two-year program. Then one day she got an email indicating that she had a week left to apply for the inaugural Eller Executive MBA class. “Even being as risk-averse as I am, I tend to jump on something when it falls in line with my goals,” she said. Khan applied and was accepted into the program.
She continued to live and work in San Diego, and flew in for the program every other weekend. “The EMBA provided the flexibility for me to maintain my career,” she said. “The class was dynamic in experiences and gave this linear accountant a refreshed mindset on how to address business issues with a broad perspective.”
Khan continued with Callaway until 2007, when she left to start her own consulting company focusing on large corporation taxation, including multinational tax matters and process efficiency.
Earlier this year, she made a big leap: in April, she joined the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as a foreign service officer in financial management. “This role, as a controller overseas, allows me to broaden my accounting and management focus while also giving me the chance to achieve personal goals I’ve had for a long time: to live and work overseas and to work in an industry that has a philanthropic aspect,” she said.
USAID works in developing countries to develop or provide support for projects in health, education, agriculture, democracy, and governance. “The challenges I face once I’m overseas will vary by post,” she said. “But while I will be giving up the comforts of my beach house in San Diego for life in a foreign country, I am confident that I will be challenged daily to find ways to help developing nations strengthen their public systems.”
It’s a long way from her initial career goal of pediatrics. “I think that in the 20/20 view, every experience I’ve had thus far has prepared me for this new phase of my career,” she said. “After taking on tough executives and accounting firm partners for the last 12 years, I am ready for a change and a new experience.”
Although she has traveled internationally for work and pleasure, this will mark the first time she’s lived and worked overseas. The international trip — to Shanghai and Beijing — that she made while in the Executive MBA program was the first time she’d been abroad in a business context. “It opened my eyes to a culture I didn’t understand,” she said.
As she gets ready to relocate for USAID, Khan is prepared to take her own advice and live life without regrets. “I have made a lot mistakes and questioned whether or not I was making the right decisions,” she said. “All of this has formed who I am today. I always keep a three- to five-year plan of personal and professional goals. If you are serious about having a full life, a plan can help you get there, because it lets you glimpse opportunities you may ignore otherwise. And, if you take risks now and then, you might be surprised by the results.”