Published on May 12, 2021 by Morgan Black  
Andria Cleghorn
Samford alumna Andria Melgren Cleghorn has been named the chief financial officer for O’Neal Steel, part of the nation’s largest family-owned metal distributor, O’Neal Industries. Cleghorn, a graduate of the Master of Business Administration (2002) and Master of Accountancy (2008) programs in Samford’s Brock School of Business, shares advice for finance students as they seek careers in the industry. 

Tell us a little bit about O’Neal Steel and its history.

O’Neal Steel is one of several operating companies within O’Neal Industries. Celebrating 100 years in business this year, O’Neal Steel is proud to be part of the nation’s largest family-owned, full-line metal distributors and service centers.
 
O’Neal’s roots can be traced back to 1921 when Kirkman O’Neal founded what would later become O’Neal Steel. O’Neal started a small steel fabricating business in Birmingham, Alabama, and quickly gained a reputation for dependability and performance
 
Throughout the Great Depression, O’Neal’s company, then called Southern Steel Works, held firm by maintaining strong customer relationships, and by 1935 had become one of the South’s first metals service centers. Changing its name to O’Neal Steel in 1956, the company focused on serving customers whose needs did not meet the high-tonnage requirements necessary to enable them to purchase materials directly from the mills.
 
During World War II, O’Neal Steel became the nation’s largest producer of general-purpose bombs, employing over 1300 men and women who not only produced bombs, but many fabrications for the war effort as well. In recognition of support of this military effort, the company was awarded the Army and Navy “E” for Excellence and two additional Citations for Excellence by the U.S. Government.

What are your primary responsibilities as chief financial officer (CFO)?

The role of the modern CFO is changing. Besides traditional duties like maintaining balance sheet health, cash management and ensuring capital is invested to the highest and best use, my responsibilities include helping to set the tone for a positive corporate culture, determining the key metrics that are most valuable in driving profitability, and developing others within the organization to understand the financial impact of the business cycle in order to empower them to make better decisions. My role is to work with the other leaders in the company to create a long-term business plan that ensures the highest level of financial success and allows the organization to execute its value proposition. I have to understand the past and present financial trends but still always be forward looking. And, most importantly, my role is to support my teams and make sure they have all resources available so they may be successful. 

What was your first role out of college and how have you progressed to where you are today?

My first role out of college was at Regions Financial Corporation as a management trainee.  Upon completion of the program, I was placed into corporate lending marketing to middle market companies. My favorite part of corporate lending was trying to get a true financial understanding of my clients. I decided I really wanted to be a key finance member in some of those companies but felt like my weakness was understanding the accounting side, so I went back to Samford to get a master’s in accountancy. While getting my master’s, one of my professors gave me a contact for a company looking for an intern. My internship turned into a 12-year career at McPherson Oil in multiple roles. I left to take the role of senior director of accounting and finance for the U.S. Operations of National Cement and then was fortunate enough to be able to join O’Neal Steel. 

How did Samford prepare you for your career and what influential relationship(s) do you look back on?

I had the opportunity to study under some really incredible faculty members–Dr. Doug Smith, Dr. Dennis Price and Dr. Bill Belski to name just a few. Not only were they incredible teachers from a technical view, but I also feel like they taught so much more–strategic thinking, ethics and leadership. I always felt like they held a vested interest in their students and truly wanted us to succeed. 

How did Samford instill in you ethical leadership skills and how do you plan to use those skills in your new role?

Ethics is such a key component of the Samford curriculum. This focus gave me the confidence and courage even early on in my career to always take a strong ethical stance. I wish I could say that everyone I have met in the finance space operates similarly, however, while the majority do there are some whose definition of ethics are loose. Having the confidence to challenge others has been very important. Ethical leadership will be the core of my new role. There is no room for anything less. Luckily, I work for a company that already values and practices strong ethics. 

How can finance students prepare themselves while they’re still in school and what should they be aware of when entering a career in finance?

My biggest piece of advice is not to assume that a career in finance does not need a much broader operational and system knowledge. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn something new even if it is outside the finance and accounting realm. Ultimately everything has a financial impact on an organization and the ability to effectively understand that impact will make you extremely valuable and thus add marketability. Plus, you never know what opportunities will arise from being open.

What advice do you have for Samford graduates as they prepare to enter the workforce?

Be very open to different financial roles. There are a lot of different paths in finance and accounting which is exciting because that means there is a lot of opportunity within those fields. When I graduated, no one had even heard of a Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) department, but now most companies are investing heavily in FP&A and data analytics. Do your research on companies and their corporate culture. Culture is everything when selecting an employer. Identify several companies you think the culture is a fit and try to make some contacts there. Even if there is not an open position now, you would be surprised how a great conversation will leave a lasting impression and you may be the first one they call when something opens in the future.