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Rene Villela

Rene Villela, CPA, doesn’t have to use his vacation time to travel the world.

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Rene Villela


Senior Auditor
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc
Scottsdale, AZ

Rene Villela, CPA, doesn’t have to use his vacation time to travel the world.

As an internal auditor for a hotel and resort company, Rene gets paid to work (and stay) in swanky hotels all over North, Central and South America. “By choice, I travel 75% to 80% of the time. I spend anywhere from 3 to 13 days at a specific hotel making sure they are in compliance or assisting them in becoming compliant.”

The job is perfect for Rene, because he loves meeting people and learning about other cultures. He gets to interact with people who work in every department of the hotel — from operations to general management — when he’s performing audits of each hotel property. Check out Rene’s day planner to see more of what he does on a typical day on-site at a hotel.

Through his interactions with employees from all over the world, Rene has become a networking pro. “I’m always networking in my job. When I leave a country, I’ve got three or four friends there. I always get someone’s card and an offer to stay with them if I come back.”

Rene knows how to work networking events, too. “As an aspiring CPA, you’re in an environment where networking is important and expected, so step out of your bubble. Especially at networking events, it’s expected for you to participate in conversation. Don’t feel like you’re rude or interrupting when you join an ongoing conversation.”

His involvement with AICPA and ALPFA (the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting) are other ways that Rene has improved his networking prowess. Rene, a former AICPA scholarship recipient and alumnus of the Accounting Leadership Scholars Workshop, has been an active member of ALPFA since he founded his school’s chapter. He currently serves on the Phoenix chapter’s board of directors of the Phoenix chapter. “My ALPFA familia has, in many ways, helped me get to where I am today. The organization gives students many opportunities for networking, leadership and personal development. And the great thing is that those benefits and opportunities continue as a professional.”

Even with his busy schedule, Rene makes time to exercise and have fun. He uses hotel gyms to stay in shape and train for Tough Mudder races, which he schedules around his work travel plans. In his down time, Rene also likes to read and play guitar.

If you’re interested in a position that involves international travel like Rene’s, he’s got some advice for you. “Pick up a second language and immerse yourself in it. No matter what industry you’re in, business is becoming a globalized profession. So if you want to work with global teams and go to other places, it’s imperative that you learn another language. My fluency in Spanish is a huge asset since I do a lot of audits in Central and South America. ”

What you don’t have to be if you want to become a successful CPA is the (wrong) stereotype of an accountant. “I’ve met a lot of successful accountants, and they are completely different than the stereotypes. Accountants may be detail-oriented, but they aren’t boring or stuffy. They’re great communicators and like to be social. You have to be able to communicate well to be a good accountant since you’re the connection between the numbers and rules and the client.”

Are you up for a life of frequent flier miles and passport stamps? Learn more about being a jet-setting CPA and the perks of auditing in the private sector. Or check out how you can start traveling now with an accounting study abroad program.

  • 6am: Gym

    Because my days can be unpredictable, I love having some time to myself in the morning to work out.  Since almost every property has a gym, I don’t have an excuse not to exercise every morning. 

  • 8am: Breakfast and Local News

    While I’m eating breakfast, I like to read the local news of whatever country or state I’m in. I always check the paper to see if there is anything pertinent to the hospitality industry.

  • 9am: Status Update

    My team and I begin the day by having a status update. We talk about where we are with our work so that we can focus on the critical areas or reallocate our resources where necessary.

  • 10am: Client Interviews

    We typically have our interviews with hotel staff, managers and finance teams in mid-morning or early afternoons. That gives us a chance to gain an understanding of the environment we are dealing with.  We talk to the hotel employees about day to day operations as well as property specific challenges so that we can make sure that they are in compliance with company policy. 

  • 12pm: Lunch

    My team and I like to have lunch with property Executive Committee members or members of the Accounting/Front Office teams to foster an environment of partnership rather than Auditor/Auditee. I love getting to know the people I work with better.

  • 1pm: Putting Pen to Paper

    Early afternoons are mainly committed to getting through the formal work of documentation. With mornings typically taken up by interviews and walkthroughs, we take advantage of this time to record what work we’ve been doing. 

  • 4pm: Daily Recap

    At this point, my team and I regroup again see where we are with our areas of work. We provide key updates to information, which may have an effect on other team members’ areas.

  • 6pm: Wrap-Up and Dinner

    After we’ve finished our work for the day, we go to dinner with property personnel or eat at one of the restaurants at the property. If we’ve heard any good restaurant recommendations from locals, we’ll venture out and enjoy the local cuisine.

  • 8pm: Explore the Surrounding Areas

    I enjoy getting lost in other countries because it forces you to discover local treasures and meet many interesting people. I’ve stumbled upon countless great restaurants and made a lot of friends on adventures such as these. If I decide to stay in, I usually read a book or watch sports.

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