An Interview With Sheena

Accounting Director Sheena Griffin was named a finalist for the 2021 BBJ CFO Awards. These awards recognize the top financial officer in a Birmingham organization. We’re very proud of Sheena and all she has accomplished during her time with the agency. We sat down with her to find out some of the secrets to her success.

How do you view the role of the Accounting Director?

As an overseer for all finances of the company, this role guides the allocation of finances and provides direction to others on how to book against different clients, projects, and ledger accounts. You must lead, follow, and expect adherence to specific policies and procedures while implementing checks and balances involving cash and finances.

How has COVID-19 changed the dynamics of the Accounting Director role due to new challenges companies are facing?

We learned to quickly adapt to different payment terms and ways that we pay our vendors. We had to be flexible with clients’ needs, as they may need longer to process payments due to their own challenges. We had to jump in and be more hands-on to assist as employees needed to be out of the office, and embrace technology to keep things running from home.

What role should an Accounting Director play when it comes to managing a company’s growth?

You must be able to turn in timely and accurate reports and provide any reports needed by the top decision-makers of the company. It’s important to set, review, and adhere to department budgets, making sure those stay in line.

What’s a success story from your time as Accounting Director that helped the company?

Coming on board 15 years ago, there were only two of us in accounting. Not long after I started, that dwindled to just me. Today, I’ve built that into a team of nine accounting professionals. My biggest success story is the team we have and how they’ve developed their own roles to succeed as individuals

What is your best advice to Accounting Directors about navigating a crisis?

Take one day at a time. Pray. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the situation. Keep a clear head. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm with your team for fresh ideas. If your team is anything like mine, they are willing and able to jump in to tackle problems, and they want to help and support you.

What’s your best tip or best practice for leading a company’s financial operations through a challenging economy?

Be flexible with changes. With Covid, if one thing isn’t selling specifically, or clients reduce budgets, you must be willing to be flexible with anything new that your salespeople are selling. You can’t be rattled by all of the changes coming through. STRONG has developed several new products as growth opportunities for revenue, and as Accounting Director, I had to be flexible learning how to implement them and make it work.

What’s a lesson you’ve learned from a mentor?

It feels to me like God has been teaching me to be better about not judging a situation based on what I first hear or see from somebody. I’ve learned to not let myself get puffed up with pride and think you know everything about the situation or read too much into it. It’s important to treat everyone fairly and with respect.

Losing Kilos Going Keto

The word “diet” doesn’t conjure fond memories for most people.

But one diet promises to permit much of the food that is forbidden by other weight loss plans.

The ketogenic diet, known simply as keto, places restrictions on only one food group: carbohydrates. Carbs are limited to anywhere from 15 to 50 grams per day. Other than that, dieters are free to eat all of the bacon, steak, and peanut butter their heart desires.

With an ultra-low-carb intake, the body enters ketosis, meaning it burns glucose from fat rather than carbs for fuel. The ketogenic state bolsters fat loss and can increase energy and overall health.

At SAM, four team members have seen incredible success by sticking with the keto diet. Here’s what they experienced along the way.


David McMath

How did you get started with the keto diet?

“I noticed Whitson avoiding some of the free lunches, and we got to talking about his results with the diet. What sold me was the number of recipes available for the diet. It made it easy to find meals that fit the requirements. I purchased the book Simply Keto that I recommend to anyone who needs information and recipes about the diet.”

What has been the hardest part?

“Giving up bread, pasta, and sweets has been hard. But having co-workers who are on the diet too has made it easier to stick to. There are also keto substitutes for banned foods called fat bombs. They’re usually small, homemade snacks that are heavy in fat. They help quell cravings that may have you otherwise reaching for carbs.”

What results have you seen?

“I’ve lost 35 pounds since I started on Memorial Day weekend. I still have a few more to go before I reach my BMI goal, but I’m not far off.”


Liz Elder

Why did you start the keto diet?

“I’ve always struggled with my weight. In November of 2017, I was at my heaviest. I had lost some weight in 2018 with Weight Watchers, but when my daughter got engaged, I knew I wanted to be in shape for her September 2019 wedding. This January I started keto.”

What results have you seen?

“I had pretty bad arthritis before this. Some days, I could barely pick up a cup with one hand. Within two weeks of cutting out sugar, I could feel the inflammation leaving my arthritis. I’ve stopped taking several pain and blood pressure medications. In the two years I have been dieting, I’ve lost over 100 pounds.”

What has been the most difficult part?

“Cutting out the addictions was tough in the beginning. I used food as a comfort mechanism. I’ve since replaced that with a healthier addiction – exercise. There was also the “keto flu.” It happens between weeks 2 and 3. For an entire weekend, I couldn’t get out of bed. It happens when your body detoxes from all of the sugar and junk you’ve put into it. But after that, my cravings totally disappeared. I accidentally ate full-sugar ice cream once, and I actually felt hungover the next day. It was terrible!”


Sheena Griffin

What has been your biggest struggle with the diet?

“I used to eat lots of fruit, so having to cut high-sugar fruits like apples and bananas has been hard. Giving up fried food (because of the breading) has also been difficult.”

What results have you seen?

“I’ve lost over 20 pounds in the one year that I have been on the diet. I feel better and have more energy throughout the day.”

Have you slipped up?

“Nope, I haven’t had any cheat days. Sometimes, I’ll go over on my carb limit for the day, but I haven’t eaten any of the banned foods.”

What advice do you have to those interested in the diet?

“Do your research. Learn how to scan ingredients. Some foods may say ‘no sugar added,’ but this doesn’t mean they are free of sugar or are keto-friendly. Learn which sugar substitutes you can use so you can stay in ketosis.”


David Whitson

What results have you seen with the diet?

“Since starting keto, I’ve lost over 40 pounds and have energy like I can’t remember. The last time I went for my biannual check-up, my doctor said my blood levels had returned to normal thanks to the diet. My mind is much clearer, and I typically only eat dinner and a snack for lunch.”

What is the hardest part?

“I kickstarted the diet with a month of no drinking. Once I came off, I forgot that beer isn’t keto-friendly. Luckily, hard seltzer is super low-carb and is a great alternative. I’ve never been big on sweets, so that part wasn’t hard.”

What advice do you have for future keto-ers?

“See if it’s right for you. If you can’t part with sweets, then it’s not going to work. The ‘keto sweets’ are good substitutes, but other than that it’s an easy diet… especially if you prefer savory flavors.”

Island Hopping

by Luke Thomas

Amid thick clusters of plumeria, girdled by pineapple groves and capricious volcanoes, there lies an exotic paradise waiting to be explored. From deep within its confines, two very different stories emerged.

Despite an unnervingly-timed volcanic eruption, Team Strong has returned from the islands of Hawaii and is here to share with us the wonders of this offshore neverland.

Setting Sail

Cruises were never the first choice for Accounting Director Sheena Griffin. But when her family planned an island-hopping cruise trip around Hawaii, she left her reservations on the mainland.

Griffin spent seven days aboard the cruise ship, visiting four of Hawaii’s most idyllic islands. Along the way, she filled her senses with the lush flora and natural features of America’s tropical state. One of her favorite excursions was visiting the “Grand Canyon of Hawaii,” otherwise known as Waimea Canyon. The canyon features a river that runs within, as well as countless waterfalls and natural rock formations.

The trip wasn’t all spent on the water, though. Griffin, along with her parents, sister, and brother-in-law, had a boatload of activities to keep them busy. The group visited the Dole pineapple plantation, which included a serving of pineapple ice cream. They also saw a coconut cracking demonstration and learned how to extract the water and meat of the fruit.

Never one to overlook the local culture, Griffin attended an authentic luau ceremony, showcasing the different traditions and dances that resulted from Polynesian influence.

The most exciting moment came from a stroke of luck, however.

“We happened to be on the Big Island the day before Kilauea erupted,” Griffin said. “I was able to get a photo of it spewing lava. We didn’t even learn about the eruption until we were already on another island and got ahold of Wi-Fi.”

Griffin returned from Hawaii with some incredible photos, unforgettable memories, and a bag of pineapple coconut Hershey’s Kisses whose taste curiously mimicked the scent of Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen.

All Over Oahu

While Griffin spread her time among different islands, Digital Merchandising Director Joey Tichenor opted to explore everything that the island of Oahu had to offer instead.

The trip started as a fringe benefit from an optometry conference that Tichenor’s girlfriend, Anna, was attending. The two decided to rent a home once the conference was over and continue exploring Hawaii’s capital island.

While most would exhale a sigh of relief at the thought of a shark-less beach vacation, that wasn’t an option for Tichenor. He instead signed up for a marine biology snorkeling session that allowed him to free-dive with a school of 27 sharks.

“It goes against what you would think, but you’re actually supposed to look the sharks straight in the eye,” Tichenor said. “They’re used to prey fleeing, so this directness throws them off. But needless to say, it was difficult to look 27 sharks in the eye when they’re all swimming around you.”

Back on land, Tichenor hiked the sides of dormant volcanoes and saw some fantastic sights along the way. His advice to those looking to traverse the picturesque paths: bring a good pair of hiking boots.

“I saw plenty of people with sandals on,” Tichenor said. “But it’s no fun getting stuck in the mud.”

Tichenor was safely removed from the slew of volcanic activity on the island chain, but he was prepared to recognize the signs. At one point, the state’s emergency radio announced the possibility of a tsunami.

“I read a book on Hawaii before I went, so I had my eye out for receding water or any of the other signs that it was time to head for high ground,” Tichenor said.

Next time Tichenor travels to Hawaii, he plans to visit the Big Island.

But he may want to let it cool down first.