Steve Feinstein, CFO, Conceptual MindWorks Inc.

The Crooning CPA: Steve Feinstein melds management accounting, marriage, and music

What’s in a song? Relaxation. Harmony. Complexity. Teamwork. Creativity. Those are the words hummed by Steve Feinstein, CPA, CGMA, chief financial officer for Conceptual MindWorks Inc., in San Antonio, and a self-made, performing musician. At the age of 59, he is busier than ever balancing work, family, and his popular singing gigs in South Texas.

Feinstein (a tenor, guitarist, and ukulele aficionado) and his wife Kathy (a soprano, percussionist, and bass guitarist) have been singing together since college, and now perform as Fein Tuned each month at local wineries, coffee shops, restaurants, and private establishments. 

Before joining Conceptual MindWorks 22 years ago, he served as director in the audit and accounting department and government contracting services with Padgett, Stratemann & Co. in San Antonio. Prior to that Feinstein worked as a senior auditor with Tofias, Fleischmann, Shapiro & Co., in Boston. In addition to his CPA and CGMA credentials, he holds a Masters Certificate in Government Contracting from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Feinstein loves his work, but he’s especially enthusiastic about music, which has brought him joy since a young age. Here is what he had to say about his life as an accountant and CFO, and about his passion for performing:

What is Conceptual MindWorks, and what do you do there as CFO?
CMI has two divisions—one does medical-related government contracting, which we bid on, and we have an electronic health record commercial product that we sell to ambulatory doctors’ offices.

I do a lot of bigger-picture stuff, trying to predict where we will be in a year and what issues we may have. My assistant controller handles the daily operations, which allows me to focus on next year and even the year after that. I am also involved in vetting and negotiating government contracts.

What do you like most about working in accounting/finance?
I love solving problems. When something is out of whack or doesn't look right, I love digging around and discovering what happened. In my current work situation, I do less and less of that. Instead, I do a lot more of running teams and answering questions from HR, admin, HSO [HIPAA Security Officer], or finance (which I guess is still solving problems). 

How did you get into music?
My mom likes to tell this story: When I was young, I liked the Beatles. I still like the Beatles. I decided I wanted to play guitar and took a few lessons, and then got tired of it—and she likes to say she made me continue, and that’s why I play guitar today. I was in a band in college for a few years, but when I graduated from college I focused on my career and family. I graduated in 1979 and really didn’t play guitar for 15 years.

I got back into music because I became a youth advisor at our church, and found out that if I played Beatles’ songs on my guitar, I could connect with the youth. The trick in doing youth advising is to get them to trust you. That’s why I started again, and it went from there.

How are music and your work as a CFO similar?
I’ve been reflecting on this. When you think about the song, you have to play chords and notes at the same time, and have the harmonies in the right key. When performing with a partner, there has to be teamwork to be in harmony, and it’s the same thing at work. My job is about making sure that the team gets things done efficiently, and I provide resources to do that. We have a great team, and they do a lot of the detail work, to make sure the receivables are sent and collections are made and the bills are paid. We’re a small team, and nobody says, “That’s not my job.”  So, if I can keep them working as a team, and happy as a team, they will be efficient—and that’s the same with music.

Music is complex and it helps you expand your brain. If you go back in history, you’ll find that a lot of mathematicians were also musicians. There is math in music. There are fractions in music. Each measure often adds up to one. Music also opens your mind to being flexible, and seeing the bigger picture, such as how you sound to the audience.  That helps me at work because I’m doing big picture things.

How does music enrich your life?
Music is a good way to relax and get frustrations out. It’s just a way to get away and not think about anything else. At many places where we perform, people are eating but when you start playing the song and they look up and smile, we get that feedback. It’s like, “Wow, I just made someone smile, and whatever troubles were on their mind are gone.” 

Fein Tuned plays a lot of gigs each month. How do you balance this with work and life in general?
It keeps us busy for sure. It’s all a matter of perspective. I’m turning 60 this year. I’m figuring out what’s important and what’s not. I have a lot of flexibility at work. We play at retirement homes quite a bit during the day. Most of our other gigs are on the weekends. I haven’t told my wife to go get them because if I did, we’d be playing every day. My wife is very skilled at building networks and lining up events for us to play.

What is the best part of performing with your spouse?
I’ve been singing with my wife since we met in the college choir. We sound very good together and have sung together for over 40 years. There are times when she’s struggling during a performance or vice versa, but nobody else will hear it. We both listen to each other well, and that’s what singing is about. It’s about teamwork, listening to each other, and taking implicit cues from your partner. There was one song where she started singing the wrong words, so I had to switch the words so I could match her. Nobody noticed the mistake because we both sang the wrong words.

What advice would you give to young professionals?
I give the same advice I give my kids: Always follow your passion. If you are passionate about numbers, then go after it and have fun with it. You spend probably as much time at your job as you do at home, and so if you are not happy at your job, you won’t be happy anywhere.