When the stock market crashed in 2008, stay-at-home mom and accounting graduate Jameela Wilcox Howell jumped in to help her husband start Cordovan Art School in Texas. Although founding and growing a new art school was challenging, the BYU Marriott School of Business had prepared Howell for life as a mother and business owner.
When Howell began her education at Brigham Young University, she was eager for a challenge. “I took some hard classes in high school that prepared me really well for college,” Howell explains. Wanting to make the most of her time at BYU, she decided to pursue accounting.
“I didn’t really know what accounting was when I first started, but I knew I loved numbers,” she says. “I like when things are clear and balance out.”
Howell attributes not only her professional accounting skills to her time in the School of Accountancy but also many core life principles. “Studying accounting gave me a good foundation for the rest of my life. I realized I can do hard things, apply myself, and involve God in everything I do,” Howell says.
She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1999. After interning with Deloitte & Touche, she worked for BYU Travel Study until her husband graduated from BYU in 2001.
For the next seven years, Howell was a full-time stay-at-home mother. “We have four daughters, and being a mother to them is my favorite career,” Howell says. She cared for her children at home while her husband, John, pursued different career options in illustration and real estate.
But then the recession hit. “Back in 2008 we were sort of desperate. We had lost everything, and we were starting from scratch,” Howell explains.
When John spearheaded the founding of an art school near Austin, Jameela partnered with him to make it a reality. John led the artistic side of the business, and Howell contributed her accounting skills and balanced everything behind the scenes. “I’m the expert on the software that we use. I do the payroll, taxes, and work with the bookkeeper,” Howell says.
From its founding in 2009, the Howell’s art school slowly grew. They began teaching a few students out of their home with only two employees—themselves. Eventually more people around Austin became interested in attending the school, and the Howells expanded their business. They now own and operate eight art schools near Austin and Houston, employing about a hundred people and teaching thousands of students each year.
“Our whole family contributes to the family business,” Howell says. “When we started, the kids were young and helped us pass out flyers throughout neighborhoods, clean the studios, and organize supplies.” Years later the kids began teaching the art classes. “I completed billing and accounting jobs at night, during nap times, and when the kids were at school.”
The Howells also started a popular community event in their hometown called a “chalk walk,” where artists travel to the Austin area and share their art with everyone by drawing on the sidewalk. “We started really small, but over the years the event has grown to attract over 40,000 people,” Howell says.
While their schools and chalk walks impact thousands of people, the Howells treasure the personal relationships they have built with students and teachers. “We love seeing the students that come back to us year after year and really grow as artists. Some even come back and teach with us,” Howell explains.
Throughout the past fifteen years, Howell appreciates how her family’s local business has allowed her to positively impact her family and her community. “I am grateful to find something to use my talents and fulfill both of my passions—being a mother and being an individual that’s serving the community.”
Written by Jake Holt