Technology Executive of the Year 2022: Mike Knapick, SanMar

A southern California transplant who stays true to his Golden State roots by coaching high school volleyball, Mike Knapick has been serving up success at SanMar (asi/84863). Since joining the Issaquah, WA-based Top 40 supplier as chief information officer in 2014 (after stints with Expedia, Accenture and other organizations), Knapick has led his team of more than 100 in a number of high-profile upgrades – replacing SanMar’s warehouse management system, e-commerce platform and enterprise resource management (ERP) software.

Mike Knapick, chief information officer of SanMar

Mike Knapick, chief information officer of SanMar

Knapick combines the precision and problem-solving of a trained mathematician (he has a master’s degree in math and originally aspired to be a college professor) with the practicality of a business professional. “Mike is one of the smartest people I know in the industry and is doing some amazing things at SanMar,” says Power 50 member Jon Norris, COO of Top 40 Starline USA (asi/89320) and Counselor’s 2019 Tech Exec of the Year.

Replacing ERP systems is notoriously difficult, and for Knapick and his team, updating SanMar’s decades-old homegrown ERP platform to Microsoft Dynamics 365 was certainly one of the biggest challenges they faced. President and CEO Jeremy Lott noted during last year’s ASI Digital Expo that it was a three-year implementation of a two-year project and cost double what it was supposed to. The extra time was necessary because one of the biggest issues, Knapick says, was figuring out which aspects of a package solution to keep out of the box and which needed to be tweaked to “let you do your business the way you want to.”

The other challenge was timing. SanMar went live with its new ERP in May 2020. Typically, with such a massive all-hands-on-deck deployment, everybody would camp out in the office, power-napping in shifts in one of 100 company-provided sleeping bags. But the pandemic made that plan impossible. “We had gotten all this gear into the office ready for people to come in, and then everybody gets sent home and starts working remotely,” Knapick recalls. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘What are we going to do?’”

SanMar decided to handle the transition remotely. The old ERP was shut off on a Friday morning, and for the next 72 hours, the IT team worked furiously to get the new system up and running by Monday. “We really had to take a big leap at the end and trust that our testing had done what it was supposed to do and that our training of our users was right,” Knapick says. “It was a very, very long weekend.”

In his spare time, Knapick coaches high school volleyball.

In his spare time, Knapick coaches high school volleyball.

There were, of course, wrinkles to iron out after such a major rollout. SanMar encountered credit card processing issues as well as problems calculating state tax initially, Lott explains. Despite the snags, SanMar was able fill every order that came in that day – even if some clients weren’t charged for said order. “It wasn’t really smooth,” Knapick says. “It was a lot of people scrambling around when things didn’t perform exactly how we thought they would. I had a lot of people on the team get creative about how to make things work.”

Not everything will work perfectly, especially with technology, but the hard work led to a meaningful result. Adds Knapick: “I would say that it was successful in the regard that we were able to take thousands of orders and ship them on the first day.”

And that, Knapick says, is the true role of technology at SanMar: “Once you’ve given us that order, we have the responsibility of getting it to you as quickly as we can. … It’s not about rolling out the coolest thing. It’s about identifying what’s the business challenge that we have and is there a way to leverage technology to make it better.”

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