Episode 139 – Mark Winburn

Mark sings his way to better coworker relationships


Mark Winburn had always played musical instruments but it never occurred to him to try singing until he was at a Young Life meeting. Then he started with his college choir and later became a member of his church choir. But then work began taking more of his time, so he put his singing passion on the shelf for a few years. What work took away, it gave back, when his work party had karaoke, giving him the opportunity to rekindle his passion. And now he’s a finalist in Houston’s Pride Superstar competition!

In this episode, Mark and I talk about how his singing competitions have allowed him to create a positive spirit of camaraderie with others in his firm. He’s been so moved by the support he’s gotten at his performances, seeing several of them in the audience. Mark says, “For me, singing is me breathing in happy.” He’s very cognizant of others needing to find and share their interests as well, so he’s careful not to schedule things that will interfere with this.

Mark Winburn is a Senior Manager in the IT Risk Advisory team at Briggs & Veselka Company in Houston, TX and a Becker CPA Review instructor.

He graduated from Texas Tech University – Rawls College of Business with a Dual-BBA in Accounting and Finance. While there, he also participated in the University Choir, Texas Tech Band, and FarmHouse Fraternity.

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Round 5 of the Houston’s Pride Superstar competition

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    Hello, this is John Garrett. Welcome to Episode 139 of the Green Apple Podcast, where each Wednesday, I interview a professional who just like me is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work, making them standout like a green apple in pretty boring, stereotypical, red apple world. I’m always so fascinated how we usually try to standout with our technical expertise. I’m here to shine a light each week on someone who understands that expertise isn’t always earned in degrees and certifications. Sometimes, its experiences from your passions outside of work that actually make you better at your job. This week, you’ll hear how those passions are what bring people together in the office. Really quickly, I’m doing a research, it’s a super short, one minute anonymous survey about firm culture and how the green apple message might apply in your world.

    So if you’ve got your 60 seconds, please head over to www.greenapplepodcast.com. You can click on that big green button there, answer a few quick questions. Again, it’s totally anonymous and I really, really appreciate the help. Thanks so much to everyone for subscribing to the show, so you don’t miss any of the cool guests like this week’s, Mark Winburn. He’s a Senior Manager in the IT Risk Advisory team at Briggs & Veselka Company in Houston, Texas and a Becker CPA Review instructor. I met one of his co-workers at the AIM Summit, he told me all about him, and I can’t wait to get to the fun stuff. But first, thanks so much Mark for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Mark: Thanks for having me, John.

    John: Oh, I’m so excited have you on and I gave the people a little bit of your introduction but maybe, in your own words, it would be great to say in a kind of what you’re up to now accounting-wise and a little bit of how you got there?

    Mark: Well, I started out as a financial auditor and tracked into an interest in IT controls.

    John: Nice, that’s fantastic. One thing that I love to ask everybody is just how did you get into accounting? I mean what made you want to choose that?

    Mark: Well, I’m kind of getting right into the topic today. I chose my college because they had both a good business school and then they also had a music school.

    John: Oh, okay, alright. Nice. Then you were just like one of the business ones, one at accounting, it starts with “A”, it’s the first one?

    Mark: Well, I can remember my freshmen year, all the business students we’d gather in a very large auditorium and there would be presentations made by different departments on why you might want to do accounting or why you might want to do finance or marketing and all the other options. Let’s just say the accounting guy was very convincing.

    John: Right. That’s awesome. We should clone that guy and get him everywhere. But that’s awesome, man. Clearly, it’s been a success. Kudos, man, kudos. Yeah. So you’re already hinted at it, but what kind of passion drives you when you’re outside of work, clearly, something music-related?

    Mark: Well, I’ve always had a music hobby, grew up taking a few piano lessons and playing piano. I moved onto trombone when I was in junior high school. I played in my marching band.

    John: Nice. I played trombone too, man. Awesome, that’s so great. Total goofball instrument right? That’s awesome.

    Mark: Yeah, exactly. It’s sort of like the secret brotherhood of trombone players. But if you hear somebody else plays is like, okay, well, that’s explains a lot, doesn’t it? Oh, yes, it does.

    John: No, it explains everything.

    Mark: Exactly. I got the honor of being able to direct my high school band as a drum major for a little bit. That was one of the highlight, early highlights of my life, I guess.

    John: Oh, great.

    Mark: Then when I went onto with college, it was wanting to continue that club of being in music and band, so I did two years of band. And then a funny thing happened. It was a Young Life meeting and it was after the Young Life meeting, a couple of us that played instruments got together and said “Well, why don’t we just do something for the next meeting?” We ended up with a whole bunch of singers, a full band that performed a couple of times for that Young Life club and then I was still the piano player at that point. Eventually decided, well, I need to have my game and want to start a little bit. So I moved into choir and spent a couple of years doing university choir as a business major. It’s kind of something on the side. It’s funny, if you look at a university choir, you probably got at least a third of those students typically that are other majors than music. Of course, you got to contingent the music people too. So that’s how it all started.

    John: Yeah, I mean because I imagined that all the music majors are the ones doing the solos and everybody else. No, there’s a lot of talent there and people that are doing other degrees. So good for you for pursuing that. That’s really cool.

    Mark: Well, thank you. And then after I graduated, I came to Houston and started with what was then a big aid accounting firm, continued on with the music and mostly through the church choir. My story is I moved around a little bit. I kind of got into industry and eventually Sarbanes–Oxley came along and we all got really, really busy there for a while. That was a point in time when I just didn’t have much time to do much besides care for the family and kind of take care of things. So I have stopped doing music, but you asked me about life’s highlights. Probably, the biggest one is I got to propose to my wife in a choir rehearsal.

    John: Oh, there you go.

    Mark: Singing a song, and I had four guys who were friends, kind of backing me up. I was pretty angel eyes and we had all the cool stuff in the background with the guys singing the backup.

    John: That’s great, awesome.

    Mark: But anyway, Sarbanes came along and so I’d stopped doing music and mostly just got taking care of things, paying the bills, and I guess as with a lot of the accountants. The profession can start to consume your personal life if you’re not careful. It’s funny, work took it away, and then work gave the music back. We had this strange thing at the Finance Department, Christmas party, over a lunch hour with probably 70 people there would be my guess, 70 to 100 people there because it was the whole Finance Department for this corporation. They had hired a karaoke DJ to help entertain the party. If you can imagine the poor karaoke DJ trying to get people to sing —

    John: From a Finance Department, totally, yeah.

    Mark: The management shifted in the gear and started asking, “Hey, do you sing? Do you sing?” The third time they came around, I said, “Okay, well, if nobody else is going to, I’ll get up there. I’ll help. I’ll do something.” I just sang a little song that I’ve been singing in the car, an old Blues Brothers album song called “Hey, Bartender”. They also say they liked it, they’ve responded well and I had a good time. One of the Directors came up to me after that and he said, “You know, I judged karaoke contests. You ought to try out for one.” I looked at him and said, “No, no way.”

    But I went home the holidays because they had the party before the holiday, so there I had some vacation time. I got on the Amazon music and discover there are always cool tracks out there that you could sing to. One of the challenges with me being a piano player is I always wanted to accompany myself, so I try to learn the piano part and then sing on top of that. It took a lot of time to prepare a song and there is other issues about they pay attention to what you’re playing with your fingers, the keys or you pay attention to your voice. For me, it’s a little hard to shift back and forth. So having these tracks was awesome because now I could just concentrate on the vocal and have a lot of fun with all the accompaniment in the back.

    John: Awesome, that’s so great. So you would do this at home then?

    Mark: Yeah. I literally learned some songs on the off chance that they might someday ask me to sing again.

    John: For next Christmas Party?

    Mark: Yeah, because you know the karaoke thing, you want to be either really, really good or really, really bad.

    John: Right and then the middle is awkward, yeah.

    Mark: Right. So I did learn a few more songs and that’s kind of where the current thing started. But the contest, I’ve kind of looked at him and said, “There’s no way I would ever do a contest.” About a year-and-a-half later, our local chamber of commerce live in an area called The Heights. They have an annual contest. I’m going to go to this contest and I’m going to listen. But when I got there, they had extra spots. They had few other opportunities for people to sing. So I grab one of these songs that I’ve learned just in case and decided I don’t know anybody else in this room, if I really don’t do very well, who cares? What happens here at The Heights contest days at The Heights contest and I’ll survive.

    John: Right. It never happened, right?

    Mark: Needless to say, I sang and it was good but it wasn’t good enough to get me through that round that night. But what was really cool that happened is I met some other singers who were kind of regulars at this contest and really work at it. One of whom is a hostess for an open mic here in town that meets on a regular basis on Monday nights. They invited me to come and practice with them and learn. And so I started plugging into that and singing a few songs every Monday and building a repertoire, so to speak, of songs. I love doing the contest. It stretches me. At first, the challenged was just kind of singing in front of group of people and get through it and now, it moved onto kind of sing and move around and connect with the audience. It’s just getting more and more fun.

    John: Yeah, yeah, because then if you’re actually having fun out there then the audience can tell that you’re having fun, so then they’re able to have fun as well. For sure, I mean as a performer myself, they can smell blood in the water. Right as soon as the performer is nervous, then they get nervous, and then it’s over. They’re not going to help carry it through. I guess unless you’re seeing the Star-Spangled Banner and you’re like an eight-year-old girl, then the audience will help carry you through. But otherwise, you’re on your own, buddy. That’s awesome. So is this something that comes up at work?

    Mark: Well, it has in this situation. One of the things about the contest is kind of a practical matter that you want to try and get your friends and your family there. So you have some support in the room. For me, the trick has been can I get a little support from work and it breaks. They’ve helped out. In fact, this last Sunday we did. I had some helpers. While I was singing, they were down on the floor throwing beach balls out to the audience.

    John: Oh, that’s great. That’s awesome.

    Mark: And we also went up. This is a kind of a two-level thing with the audience on the first floor and there’s a cutout on the second floor. We were able to drop some confetti during the end, the last of the song.

    John: That’s so cool. They’re in on the choreography of it all. That’s perfect.

    Mark: Yes.

    John: Yeah, that’s great, man. Is this something that, at first, you’re kind of nervous about sharing? Or where you like “Hey, this is me, take it or leave it.”?

    Mark: Definitely, nervous. If you go back to my younger days, I really just didn’t talk about it pretty much. If you got to know Mark really, really well, then you’d find out about me playing piano. I think at one point, there was almost a negative comment from somebody that — they have too much of a hobby. It could be a problem with your advancement, that kind of a —

    John: The tone? Yeah.

    Mark: But I’ve discovered you can work through that with the communications and just say, I want to do this and the reason I’m doing this is to get better. It’s a once a year kind of thing. It’s not like if there’s a contest every week for the whole year in a short period of time. Today, trying to get folks involved has been a lot of fun and there’s a real positive spirit and camaraderie that is created through the music. To me it’s — I started being more willing to talk about it in the context of well, you know, people like playing softball and basketball and golf and this is — So my hobby is a little different but is not that much different than those sort of things.

    John: Yeah, it’s probably more competitive to be honest. No, that’s so cool though, man. It’s so cool that people are behind you with that and wanting to come and not only watch but be a part of it and support you like that? That’s got to feel really cool.

    Mark: It really gets to my heart. But I don’t know — words are kind of failing me because when you were in that situation and you’ve just done a performance, I was explaining to my parents, it’s kind of like — for me, singing is breathing in happy.

    John: Right, there you go. That’s exactly what it is. Yeah. That’s the thing. If you work somewhere, whatever it is, if they don’t let you breathe and you’re happy, then it’s always hilarious to me whether likewise everyone’s so disengage or whatever, grumpy. It’s like well, you’re not letting them breathe and they’re happy. I mean it’s really not rocket science here.

    How much do feel is on an organization to create to a culture where it’s okay to have passions outside of work and to share it with everyone or how much is it on the individual to be like hey, this is what I like to do.”

    Mark: Well, I think it’s a little bit of both. I can see things happen on either side. There’s a lot of surveys now about best places to work and flexibility is definitely helpful. I think it’s something people look for. Work-life balance is another one of those concepts. I’m working, but I’m working for a purpose. The purpose is to support my family and then the purpose is at some point to live. You want to live your life and experience the things that you’re interested in and music is one of the things I like to do, but I also like to be sitting down on a boat, throwing a fish in the water and — a little bit time for that too. It can’t be all work hour but no play. Somewhere in the middle is that happy medium where folks find meaning in life and fulfillment.

    John: Yeah, absolutely. I guess as you moved up in your career now and at your level now, is there something that you do for the people that are at below you to encourage this or to see that it’s okay?

    Mark: Yeah. I’ve done that for a long time. I’ve always wanted to be sensitive to, as a manage especially, the way that I schedule things and that we’re getting the work done, but we’re not full throttle, paddle to the middle where it’s damaging to an individual’s ability to maintain their home life. Sometimes, you encounter individuals that are maybe more gang hoe. I’m going to climb the ladder and I don’t really care what happens to the people below me. I know I’ve encountered that every now and then. But my philosophy has been, at the end of the day, I want my brand to be about being a good boss. So we both need to talk about and getting the work done. There’s going to be sometimes where we got to have to pitch in and put in some hours to get through things. That’s life. But then there’s other times where hey, you know, it’s time to relax and have that family time.

    John: Right, yeah. That outside of work time. That’s probably what really I would think — I mean I love that breathing in happy. It’s pretty rare that you’re breathing in happy at work in occasion and if it’s with people that you’re actually genuinely care about. But if it’s all professionalism all the time, all charge code-driven, then it’s really hard to breathe in happy. You have to take a pause and just get to know each other and then you can actually enjoy those moments.

    Mark: Yeah, and celebrate those things too. Somebody is really good at playing golf, so we’ll celebrate that.

    John: Right, right, yeah and shine a light on it. Let people know like, hey, this person’s doing some cool stuff. Yeah, that’s fantastic, man. I can’t wait to fly down to Houston and then we can hangout and then we can do a duet maybe. I can be the other Blues Brother, maybe.

    Mark: Okay. We’ll do it.

    John: I’m a terrible, terrible singer though. So we’ll lip sync my side, but that’s going to take a lot of time. So I had my 17 rapid fire questions that I like to run people through to make sure that we can actually hangout for a while and to get to know Mark a little bit. So let me fire up the question machine here and we’ll get started. The first one I’ll ask you is pretty easy one. Do you have a favorite color?

    Mark: Blue.

    John: Blue, alright. How about a least favorite color?

    Mark: It would have to be that off-green color.

    John: Pea green or —

    Mark: We have another word for it.

    John: Okay, right, right, right. How about are you more pens or pencils?

    Mark: Pens, probably.

    John: Alright, alright. How about the Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Mark: Star Wars.

    John: Nice. How about do you have a favorite number?

    Mark: Seven.

    John: Seven? Is there a reason? Or it’s just a good number?

    Mark: Well, I grew up reading a lot of James Bond books.

    John: Okay, there you go, right. How about a favorite place you’ve been on vacation?

    Mark: Well, locally probably, West Texas.

    John: Alright, alright. How about Sudoku or Crossword Puzzle?

    Mark: Sudoku.

    John: Sudoku, alright. We got like seven more. When it comes to computers, are you more of a PC or a MAC?

    Mark: PC.

    John: Would you say you’re more Balance Sheet or Income Statement?

    Mark: Probably, Income Statement.

    John: All right yeah. I guess from the tax side, it’s what happens. How about if you have a favorite actor or actress?

    Mark: Harrison Ford, yeah.

    John: Oh yeah, Harrison Ford? Definitely, he’s great and all the movies are awesome too. Yeah, how about when you’re on a plane, are you window or isle seat?

    Mark: I’m actually both.

    John: Alright. What would you say is a typical breakfast?

    Mark: I’m not too good at eating breakfast. That’s usually a cup of coffee.

    John: Okay. Would you say you’re more of a suit and tie guy or jeans and a tee shirt?

    Mark: Oh, jeans and a tee shirt, for sure.

    John: Sure, sure. Three more, three more. How about a favorite band or musician? It’s kind of unfair to ask you but you can rattle off more than one if you want.

    Mark: Well, Michael W. Smith is one of them and Jeff Lynne, ELO is another, and Harry Connick, Michael Buble and Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. I could go on and on and on.

    John: Yeah, no, that’s fantastic, fantastic. Two more. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?

    Mark: Don’t tell anybody, but night owl.

    John: And the last one, the last one I’ll ask is the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?

    Mark: Well, faith I think would be the thing.

    John: Right. That’s fantastic, man, and it just remind you of all the work that you put in to get to where you are both professionally and in the singing. That’s so perfect, man. That’s excellent, really cool. Well, thanks so much, Mark, for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. This was awesome.

    Mark: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it.

    John: That was so great. I loved how Mark said, “For me, singing is me breathing in happy.” This is finding your “and”, the thing that you’re happy and then sharing it with your clients and co-workers because people want to connect with you, but that doesn’t happen if you’ll let professionalism dictate this. That’s usually represented by the people around you, say there isn’t a charge code for socializing and that’s ridiculous.

    Now, if you like to see some pictures of Mark on stage and maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to www.greenapplepodcast.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big green apple button, do the anonymous research survey about firm culture. Thanks again for subscribing to the show and for sharing this with your friends, so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.


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