There is no way to predict when or how inspiration might strike. For Cynthia Watson ’99, the “aha moment” arrived during her elementary school years, wrapped in a white Toyota Camry.
“I was 10 or 12 years old, and a friend of my mom, who was an accountant, stopped by with a brand-new car that she had purchased that day on her lunch break,” Watson recalls. “I decided then and there that I wanted a career in accounting too, so that I could someday buy my own brand-new car on my lunch break.”
There were other signs pointing Watson toward accounting early on. “On my way to Newark’s Thirteenth Avenue School I would see people in suits, going to work looking so well-dressed and confident,” she says. “I found out that they were accountants too! It confirmed my desire to go into the profession.”
Although her childhood wishes for new clothes and a car were driving forces, a career in accounting and business would mean much more to Watson and her family. “I was the first person in my immediate family to attend college,” she explains. “My mother worked three jobs to make ends meet. She was always tired. In fact, everyone around me worked that hard. I saw college as a way to give myself better options.”
Watson, who recently joined the Montclair State University Foundation Board, achieved these goals and more. She is an accomplished internal audit professional whose career includes roles as senior auditor at both KPMG and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA), controls manager at Pearson Inc., internal controls senior manager at Honeywell and chief audit executive at Resideo, a Honeywell spin-off, and internal audit and controls leader at TikTok. Watson, who is now an internal audit director for the Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo Corporation of Americas (SCOA), is a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) and a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA).
Watson’s Montclair State years included gaining work and life experience as a resident assistant at Webster Hall and being active in student organizations, such as the Feliciano School of Business Accounting Society. Becoming an involved alumna was a natural progression, and one that was encouraged by the Montclair State alumni she encountered early in her career.
“One of my first jobs out of college was at Mitchell & Titus LLP,” she says. “There, I met Greg Collins, who is so involved in Montclair State and in the community. He invited me to talk about my career with students at Newark high schools for the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA). I loved seeing their reactions to what I was saying. I ended up starting a similar program for the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), as their academic relations co-chair.”
Before long, Watson began volunteering for the Montclair State Accelerator Program (now called the CEO Program), mentoring the next generation of business students, and speaking with classes to share insight with current students.
In her board role, Watson is looking forward to encouraging her fellow alumni to support Montclair State. “Think about what a difference Montclair State made for us,” she says. “So many of us were the first in our families to go to college. Montclair State exposed us to a wide variety of possibilities that were backed up with solid opportunities.”
“The University has grown and changed so much since I graduated,” Watson adds, “but the students are just like we were – new to the idea of college, trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.”
As her professional life and volunteer leadership demonstrate, Watson is never one to shy away from a new challenge. “I have always liked internal auditing because you’re always doing something new and interesting,” she says. “I help businesses identify their risk points, which might be financial but could also relate to operations, staff morale, facilities, or something altogether different. I am always learning something new.”
“For example, I joined the NJSEA soon after the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed, which required corporations to make significant changes to their financial reporting practices,” she continues. “My assignment was to ensure that the organization complied with the new regulations.”
Her work with China’s TikTok and now Japan’s Sumitomo has been enlightening in a different way. “It is easy to assume that business is done the same way everywhere,” Watson explains, “but culture plays a big role in how decisions are made and implemented.”
Watson’s curiosity about the world and how it works has led her down other paths as well. She earned her certification as an integrative nutrition health coach in response to her own health concerns and is currently pursuing entrepreneurship. “I was in between jobs and began thinking about my career in new ways,” she says. “A former colleague contacted me out of the blue and told me that he is now a franchise broker – someone who pairs people with franchise opportunities. I did my research and decided to start a business that provides waste management services to large apartment complexes, Accelerated Waste Solutions – North Jersey.”
Being open to life’s possibilities is an important belief for her: “Most experiences, even the bad ones, will add to your life, helping you figure out where you want to be.”
Whenever possible, Watson encourages students to be just as open to exploring new ideas. “Don’t be too quick to say no to something just because it’s unfamiliar,” she advises. “Listen and think about how you can use a new opportunity to build the skills you need to take the next step in your career. Believe in yourself!”