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Late Nutanix Exec Mike Nowlan: ‘All The Attributes You’d Want In A Friend’

O’Ryan Johnson

‘We all know those people who, when they walk into a room, the energy level goes up. Mike was just one of those people. He was level-headed, sharp, trustworthy, lots of integrity, a good person. All the attributes you’d want in a friend, and we just so happened to work together,’ Edge Solutions co-founder Mike Haley tells CRN about late Nutanix executive Mike Nowlan.

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Mike Nowlan had a gift for sage advice and a rare calm under pressure that won him top executive roles in the channel, as well as loyal friends around the country.

Some of those friends said they were shocked to learn that Nolan, director of global channel sales programs at Nutanix since 2016 and a 14-year veteran of Arrow Electronics before that, had been battling cancer since 2019. He died Jan. 9 at age 58, leaving behind a wife and three sons.

“He just kept it quiet,” said longtime friend Kevin Kennedy, who worked with Nowlan at distributor Arrow Electronics. “That’s not surprising either. Mike wasn’t going to throw his own problems out there very often. He was more interested in listening to you and talking about how to solve your problems than groaning about his own circumstances.”

Nowlan grew up the youngest of five brothers in Fort Wayne, Ind. As a boy he idolized Chicago Bears running back Walter “Sweetness” Payton, to the point he adopted “Walter” as his confirmation name, said his older brother John Nowlan during a funeral Mass Jan. 20 that was livestreamed from St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Centennial, Colo.

A gifted athlete no matter the sport, Nowlan played football and baseball at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne. But it was pitching that earned him a spot on the University of Indiana baseball team.

“He would tell me he struck out two, walked one and hit two. He was most proud of the ones he hit,” said John Nowlan, smiling.

He excelled at golf, with his 280-yard drives only shortening when cancer took hold, said John Nowlan. While competitive by nature—whether Bingo or golf—he nonetheless joined the celebration when friend and fellow Arrow executive Andy Bratton hit a hole in one while they played together at the Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado, said Mike Haley, co-founder of Edge Solutions, a Nutanix partner in Georgia.

“I think the tab was $1,500 that night,” Haley chuckled.

Haley said he first met Nowlan in Indianapolis where both were working for Arrow. Nowlan was director of marketing in the IBM group for Arrow. Nowlan had previously spent eight years in marketing at IBM.

“We all know those people who, when they walk into a room, the energy level goes up. Mike was just one of those people,” Haley said. “He was level-headed, sharp, trustworthy, lots of integrity, a good person. All the attributes you’d want in a friend, and we just so happened to work together,” Haley told CRN.

It was around this time that Kennedy, who is now vice president of North American commercial sales at Red Hat, met Nowlan, who was busy setting up partner trips and events at conferences around the country.

“His attention to detail and his knowledge of what each individual partner liked was unsurpassed,” Kennedy said. “He knew what the partner wanted to drink specifically. Not just bourbon, but the particular type, and a bottle of it would be waiting in the partner’s room.”

Kennedy said that also extended to understanding the partner’s business and the crafting of marketing messages that would resonate.

“He knew what was important and what were priorities for each individual partner,” he said. “That really endeared him to partners and gave them a lot of confidence that he had their interests at heart because they felt like he really understood what they were trying to accomplish.”

For Kennedy, it was Nowlan’s grace under pressure that stood out.

“In our industry there tends to be a lot of emotion and people tend to wear it on their sleeve,” he said. “There can be a lot of highs and a lot of lows. People like Mike who can strike that balance, keep things even and keep a positive outlook, tend to rise to the top. Mike’s attitude allowed him to fit into a lot of places and be a cohesive part of any team.”

Kristen Rider Beatty, director of Amazon Web Services programs for cloud distributor Pax8, worked with Nowlan for seven years at Arrow. At the time, Nowlan led IBM marketing and vendor marketing for the distributor. She called him “kind, thoughtful, and a joy to be around.”

‘I always sought advice from Mike during the years we worked together because he never got ruffled from the pressure of the work and always had a healthy perspective about how to approach a problem,” she told CRN. “I missed his sage advice when I left Arrow, and I will miss his friendship even more.”

While at the University of Indiana, Nowlan met his wife Patty McGoff Nowlan. The couple had three boys together. Kennedy said one of the joys of his friendship with Nowlan was talking to him about raising children.

“Most people only see others in the business context,” Kennedy said. “The family piece of Mike’s life was incredibly important to him. He was no different talking business than he was talking about parenting and his children. He was a consistently nice, likable, positive guy to be around. Just like he never took a cookie-cutter approach to a business problem, he never did that as a parent either.”

At the funeral, John Nowlan recalled one of their last golf outings, when his younger brother was unable to hit a 280-yard drive like he used to and got angry.

“I remember thinking ‘What makes this guy tick?’ I was shocked he was even golfing,” he said. “I never heard him complain. To him it was all about beating cancer and getting back to doing what he loved.”

After he graduated the Kelley School of Business at the University of Indiana, in 1987 Nowlan began a career in technology as a marketing representative at IBM, which led him to Arrow. After he departed Arrow, Nowlan went to work for hyperconverged infrastructure giant Nutanix.

“When Mike told me about his cancer in 2019, he was stoic and took the news in stride. His mental toughness was unmatched by anyone I have ever met,” the older brother said. “He continued to be a dedicated employee and work the entire time he was going through cancer treatment.”

In a statement from Dave Gwyn, worldwide sales COO at Nutanix, the company called Nowlan’s passing a “huge pesonal loss to every one of us.”

“On behalf of Nutanix, I want to express our most heartfelt condolences to the Nowlan family,” Gwyn wrote. “Mike has been such an integral part of Nutanix’s channel organization and culture for many years. His passing represents a huge personal loss to every one of us.”

At Nutanix, Nowlan was seen as someone who believed in the power of partners and what was important to them from a profitability perspective, the company’s former channel chief, Christian Alvarez, said. He called Nowlan an “absolute expert” with an encyclopedic knowledge of the market.

“He was a Swiss Army knife. One moment he’s talking about budget and finance and profit and loss, and the next moment he could pivot and talk programs and incentives and alignment. Then he would pivot and start talking about compliance,” Alvarez said,. “His domain expertise and understanding really stood out.”

Equally important, Alvarez said, was Nowlan’s talent for developing friendships within the company.

“He built a lot of bridges within the business,” Alvarez said. “He was that glue that kept all those disciplines and functions together.”

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O’Ryan Johnson

O’Ryan Johnson is a veteran news reporter. He covers the data center beat for CRN and hopes to hear from channel partners about how he can improve his coverage and write the stories they want to read. He can be reached at ojohnson@thechannelcompany.com..

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