EY Entrepreneur Of The Year®

Energy, Cleantech and Natural Resources

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Michael G. O’Neill

CEO and Founder
Preferred Sands

Radnor, PA

With his sights set on creating one of the top three businesses in any industry he enters, Michael O’Neill has a simple strategy to achieve that goal: surround yourself with the best people.
He believes that if you have a strong team and you empower every teammate to do great things, you will succeed in any industry.
“I try to surround myself with smart, competent and confident people,” O’Neill says.
That is the philosophy he brought to Preferred Sands, a producer of hydraulic fracturing (frac) sand for the gas and oil industry. While Preferred Sands as it is defined today was launched in 2007 with the purchase of its first silica sand mine in Genoa, NE, it actually has its roots in the real estate business O’Neill and his brother started years before. As he sees it, Preferred Sands expanded from a real estate platform, to a real estate and mining platform, to the frac sand business.
“Mining was really a natural,” he says, pointing to its common elements with real estate. “There’s a lot of engineering and construction and trucking and land development.”
A Pennsylvania native, O’Neill completed his bachelor’s degree in Finance at Villanova University and his JD at Temple University. In 1984, he began his business career with First Pennsylvania Bank as a lender to aggregate and mining process companies. Just a decade later, this background would profoundly affect his career when he saw the possibilities that led to the creation of Preferred Sands.