May Huneidi excels at bringing calm to chaos. After two decades in the IT world orchestrating transformational change, she’s earned the reputation.
Huneidi’s career includes stints as chief information officer and other top IT roles for several global organizations with revenues up to $3 billion. She’s currently chief information officer at Hollander Sleep Products, the largest pillow manufacturer in North America. She originally joined the company in 2012, left in 2016, then rejoined in 2019 after receiving a call from former CEO Chris Baker to help with overcoming the business challenges from the past four years.
Hollander was going through major growth and transformation that required upgrades and modernization to its business systems and IT infrastructure. “The business had outgrown the legacy custom business applications,” she explains, “and the IT organization at all levels did not have any expertise in any of the Oracle systems that had been implemented.”
Huneidi quickly assessed the situation, established the strategy, and planned various initiatives to remediate the medium- and long-term challenges. She recruited the needed talent and competency and worked on maintaining a strong team that has been able to eliminate 90 percent of the problematic customizations from the initial Oracle implementation.
“This was a major challenge in so many ways—on both the business and technical sides,” she says. “I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to work with so many of our business and IT teams to align and achieve our goals.”
A lot had happened in the four years Huneidi had been away from Hollander, including the pending integration of an acquisition about three years ago. Within Huneidi’s first month back at the company, she got to work restructuring the IT organization for better alignment with business goals, quickly implementing a critical project that was a key prerequisite to the pending integration.
“As the CIO, it certainly caused me to be more empathetic with our teams, to support them and give them whatever reassurance I could to minimize their fears of the unknown.
This was not the first time Huneidi had led a structural reorganization. The work often involves retooling skills and addressing gaps in IT capabilities. “These changes are not easy, especially with organizations that have not had the mindset and culture to continuously adapt to the business impact of technology and market changes,” she says. “It’s difficult when you are trying to go against the water flow, developing the plan and aligning leadership and key teams to ignore forces working against the changes.”
Huneidi also played a key role in Hollander’s financial restructuring following a Chapter 11 filing earlier in 2019. The timeline was aggressive—the company had just 120 days to complete the process. “This was an extensive, involved process that none of us leaders had gone through before,” Huneidi says. “My role was investigating and researching every available option so Hollander could continue to have a reliable technical foundation and mission-critical business systems at a reduced cost.”
The company’s high-end backend architecture, which had unlimited capacity and resources, was one cost element responsible for the financial trouble. Hollander discovered that the company was only utilizing a very small percentage of the architecture’s capabilities.
She and her team (including key providers Auxis, Gladiium, and Cark Marks) carefully vetted a replacement architecture, implementing it in about a month—with no negative impact or disruption. “This was a huge risk for anyone that reviewed the scope and timeline, including myself and my team, but it needed to happen,” she says. “In addition to other activities, this resulted in cost reductions in millions.”
That challenge was followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Huneidi and her team were essential in ensuring business operations ran smoothly during stay-at-home orders as well as in accommodating remote workers. “I had to continue to maintain the technical and systems environment to ensure reliability of the mission-critical business systems, infrastructure, and security while also considering the human challenge of everyone dealing with their personal circumstances,” Huneidi says. “As the CIO, it certainly caused me to be more empathetic with our teams, to support them and give them whatever reassurance I could to minimize their fears of the unknown.
“Hollander has come a long way and is still standing,” she adds. “I’m confident that with our strong leadership with our CEO Thomas Pinnau, we can achieve our goals and a positive return to the Hollander team and Center Lane Partners.”
For other aspiring IT leaders, Huneidi says growing a tough skin and continuing to learn and adapt are important. “You have to take responsibility for your skills development, and you must love what you do,” she says. “To be effective in IT, you need to have solid business and technical experiences, and you must maintain a positive, open-minded attitude and stay focused on the business goals and strategies to continue your alignment.”
A tough skin can only come from experience and taking on new challenges, Huneidi adds. “When you’re dealing with issues impacting mission-critical business applications and infrastructure, it’s easy to react due to the pressure exerted,” she says. “I’ve learned that emphasizing the factual data, root causes, and critical needs is an essential part of breaking down the chaos to manageable parts.”