Recently, I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with a small startup technology company and was amazed by the energy, passion, and natural curiosity demonstrated by this impressive group of 20-somethings. They were truly curious about our business and how technology could help us improve. The ideas they had seemed to flow freely, and while some were far-fetched, most were practical—and more importantly—doable. The ideas blended analytics, the internet of things, and simple business process improvements, and only a few weeks later, we are already in the process of implementing some of these ideas at O’Neal Steel.

Across the industrial landscape, the term “digital transformation” is mentioned and discussed ad nauseum. In every conference you attend, meeting you have with shareholders, or customer/supplier interaction, the discussion almost certainly turns to technology. Specifically, how you are using it, the role it will play, and its potential impact. While we all know it is important, we are not exactly sure what to do first, next, or even last.

Upon reflection of my visit with this startup, it was the culture of this group, rather than the technology, that was my biggest takeaway. Yes, they knew technology in a way most of us probably never will, but it was the belief that technology could help us improve that stood out the most to me. What truly differentiated them was their mindset, rather than their skillset.

Over the past several years, O’Neal Steel has focused a great deal on our culture. We understand the world around us is changing at an ever-quickening pace, and we must be able to adapt and change to that world. Remaining accountable to each other, our customers, our shareholders, and our communities is important to us. As a company with an impressive past, rich traditions, and lasting values, we know it is important to honor our legacy. Until this year, our culture was represented solely by three adjoining circles that embodied those three core concepts—adaptability, accountability, and legacy. Recognizing that digital transformation is more cultural than tactical, this year we added a fourth circle to our culture—technology.

Within both our company and industry, to truly transform, we must develop the characteristics of that small startup. This includes a willingness to try new things, a fear of the status quo, a passion to find the answer to long-standing problems, and a desire to simply try new ideas. I am convinced that the actual technology is the easiest part. It is our mindset that will make all the difference in this journey.

Next week, my daughter has a pep rally at her high school, and the theme is “retro.” Her idea? Wear an old Blockbuster Video t-shirt! As many of us know, Blockbuster decided 15 years ago to ignore the technology changes going on around them. They chose not to embrace the mindset that is imperative in fostering digital transformation, and now, they are considered a relic of the past and worn on t-shirts at retro themed high school pep rallies.

At O’Neal Steel, we understand change is never easy, but that does not seem to ever stop it from coming. Technology is going to change our industry. Knowing this, we believe it is better to embrace that change than to fight it. Through shifting our mindset to see the opportunities to positively impact our business using technology, we open an array of possibilities that will keep us moving into the future.

In 20 years, I do not want my grandchild asking to borrow an O’Neal Steel t-shirt because we are considered a “retro” relic of the past who refused to move forward in a digital age. Decades from now, I know we will have made the right decision to shift our mindset, and ultimately, improve our skillset through our use of technology.


This article was originally published in Metal Center News, October 2019.