MDM Podcast: Endries' Michael Knight on His Learning Curve, Coaching & AI - Modern Distribution Management

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MDM Podcast: Endries’ Michael Knight on His Learning Curve, Coaching & AI

Endries International CEO Michael Knight discusses his first year leading the fast-growing OEM fasteners distributor, his thoughts on AI ethics and the power of coaching your staff.
Michael Knight CEO Endries International

Michael Knight took over leadership of fast-growing Endries International at the end of 2022 after an 18-year at electrical components distributor TTI Inc., and while he acknowledged he’s still learning the nuances of Endries’ OEM fasteners market, there already existed plenty of overlap between it and the industry he left that made getting up to speed with his new company a smooth transition.

“In many ways, I feel like this is a road I’ve been down before. I have a playbook for it,” Knight told me in MDM’s latest podcast. “And I think that gives me some advantages, especially when it comes to seeing around corners and plotting a course forward.”

That transition at Brillion, Wisconsin-based Endries — No. 35 on MDM’s 2023 Top Industrial Distributors List — has also been helped by former CEO Steve Endries, who is now the company’s Chairman and leads its strategic initiatives and M&A direction. As the first non-family member to be Endries’ top executive, Knight said Steve’s mentorship has been invaluable.

My podcast with Knight was a fantastic wide-ranging discussion that covered his fasteners learning curve; what Endries’ is up to on the digital transformation front; and the state of inventory management services in distribution today.

Perhaps most interestingly, Knight also had interesting insights on AI, particularly on the ethics side of the technology. Knight recently delivered a keynote presentation at an industry event that centered on the dual nature of AI as “both a potential creator and destroyer,” which dove into AI’s susceptibility to prejudice and how infusing diversity into its coding helps minimize that prejudice. It’s a fascinating talking point that gets into the weeds of how AI is only as good as the code and data that humans feed it.

MDM’s recent research indicates that more than 60% of distributors have yet to start utilizing it in any part of their business — and with most distribution executives still early in the learning stage with AI, it was refreshing to discuss the technology with someone who has deep thoughts on it.

“AI has been around for — depending on where you measure its start — at least 40 years, probably longer. But until recently, it hasn’t kind of entered the public awareness,” Knight told me. “And it certainly has. When I think back on your (MDM SHIFT) conference in Denver, I don’t think there was a single session, regardless of the topic, that there wasn’t an AI component, whether it was, sales, transformation or organizational development things. AI is everywhere.”

We also touched on the role of leadership coaching in distribution and its value in preparing the next wave of managers and executives in this industry in a time when recruiting and retaining talent is arguably more difficult than ever. Endries is in the midst of launching its “Endries Leadership University” internal program, which includes course work on coaching.

Endries saw its 2022 revenue jump by more than 33% vs. 2021 via a combination of organic growth and bolt-on acquisitions. The company completed three deals in 2022, and Knight said we can expect to see plenty more expansion news out of Endries in the near future.

Listen to our conversation via the audio player above, and you can find our entire library of MDM Podcasts here.

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