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Channel Grieves Passing Of ‘Fiercely Loyal’ Channel Community Builder John DeRocker

Joseph F. Kovar

DeRocker, former president of Nexus Information Systems, was an early pioneer in the solution provider business, with a 30-year legacy of IT channel leadership in Minnesota, says his friend and former employee Keith Norbie.

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John DeRocker

John DeRocker, an early pioneer in building a global solution provider business as the head of Nexus Information Systems for 15 years, died last month at the age of 52.

DeRocker had served as president of Plymouth, Minn.-based Nexus, retiring in 2013 a year after selling the company to Stratos Management Systems, later renamed Computex Technology Solutions.

After his retirement, DeRocker focused on his two primary passions: his four sons and his love of collecting rare coins and currency.

During his time in the channel, DeRocker was an influential solution provider executive, participating in partner advisory boards for technology vendors such as IBM and Juniper and also VentureTech Network, Ingram Micro’s solution provider community, said Frank Vitagliano, CEO of the Global Technology Distribution Council and former channel chief at both IBM and Juniper Networks where he partnered with DeRocker.

[Related: John DeRocker Retires: Long-Time VAR Led Nexus For 15 Years Before Selling To Stratos]

“He was a really great guy,” Vitagliano told CRN. “He was on probably five or six vendor partner councils ... he was very influential.”

Vitagliano remembered DeRocker as “a thought leader, and very much on the cutting edge of IT, a very smart man.”

He was also one of the first U.S. solution provider executives to build up business overseas, Vitagliano said.

“He developed some great customer relationships,” he said. “He had some global accounts. [At that time], not a lot of partners did global business.”

DeRocker , a personable guy and friend to many, leaves behind a 30-year legacy of IT channel leadership in Minnesota, said former employee Keith Norbie, who also considered DeRocker to be a friend.

“Outside of his being the guy who gave me my big break in the industry, he’s the guy who would head west to go snowmobiling together or have a beer,” Norbie told CRN. “He was fiercely loyal to his friends, loyal to the core, and would do anything for you. And he was a guy who was very principled about what he stood for. He wouldn’t hide in the shadows.”

DeRocker was also generous to long-term employees at Nexus, offering a unique perk: “The 10-year Nexus cruise. Anyone who was at Nexus for 10 years got a free cruise,” he said.

Norbie, who spent nearly 14 years at Nexus and now serves as senior director of worldwide partner organization solutions and sales acceleration at NetApp, said DeRocker was a U.S. Navy veteran who had to work hard to achieve all he had.

DeRocker got his first taste of IT when he worked for OPM Information Systems back when the focus was on IBM typewriters, and then moved on to become head of sales at computer reseller MicroAge, Norbie said.

“Eventually, John, me and some others came across EdTech, a company looking to get into the Twin Cities [of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.],” he said. “He went in as a minority owner and changed the name to Nexus Information Systems. He became president when Terry Fox, the former president and owner, died.”

Helping Shape VentureTech Network

DeRocker’s involvement with the VentureTech Network community at Ingram Micro included serving as a member of the VentureTech Network council for over five years and helping to evolve the partner community make the jump from focusing on products to focusing on services, according to Ingram Micro. He also was part of the council that developed the strategy for Ingram Micro’s Trust X Alliance’s Mastermind program that targets the C-suite, among other initiatives, the distributor told CRN in a statement.

Bob Stegner, senior vice president of marketing for North America at TD Synnex, who previously played a key role in setting up VentureTech Network during his time at Ingram Micro, said DeRocker was a valuable member of the community and always spoke his mind.

“John was very opinionated,” Stegner told CRN. “On VentureTech, he was the most outspoken member. But he was also focused on the concerns of the other members of the council.”

DeRocker was also focused on innovation in his own business, Stegner said.

“He made a lot of changes before anyone else did,” Stegner said. “He was always reinventing his company, doing things before anyone else, such as embracing managed services.”

Sam Haffar, who was CEO of Computex at the time it was acquired by Stratos and is currently the company’s executive chairman, remembered DeRocker as someone who helped develop the IT channel in its infancy.

“John, I and others started in the 1980s when Microsoft, Dell, Compaq and other vendors were just starting,” Haffar told CRN. “I saw him at the early Ingram Micro, Cisco, HP and other partner conferences.”

Eventually the amount of time required to run a global business started to take their toll. At the time of DeRocker’s retirement, he told CRN that he wanted to get away from the long days needed to manage Stratos’ international business to spend more time with his children.

“With international, I was starting at 5:00 a.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. because of the time zone changes,” he told CRN in 2013. “It made for a 16-hour to 18-hour day. I would work all day Sunday because it was Monday in Asia.”

DeRocker was a devoted father, Stegner said.

“The most important thing for him was those boys,” he said. “At home, one of his proudest achievements was building a pool for the boys.”

Developing A New Passion

Before DeRocker left the channel, he had already developed a love for rare coin collecting, which eventually spread to collecting currency as well.

The same passion and sense of community he displayed during his channel career showed in his hobby as well, with fellow collectors mourning his passing in online posts.

Members of the online community Paper Money Forum remembered DeRocker not just as a fellow collector but as someone dedicated to both the hobby and to helping fellow enthusiasts.

One member called TheRock, DeRocker’s forum handle, “one of the greatest collectors of all time.”

Another remembered DeRocker for diving into the hobby as a newcomer and eventually building a world-class collection. “John was always helpful to fellow collectors and a great guy. His passion for the hobby was unmatched,” the member wrote.

Another member who said he had purchased hundreds of notes from DeRocker wrote, “Every single one of them had hand-written receipts and notes; the care and affection he had for the hobby was infectious ... he will be sorely missed.”

DeRocker is survived by his mother, Lois Sluyter; children Joseph, Brandon, Devin and Cody DeRocker; his previous wife, Patricia Carrier; close family friend Jennifer (William) Kunde; and many other friends and relatives, according to his obituary.


Joseph F. Kovar

Joseph F. Kovar is a senior editor and reporter for the storage and the non-tech-focused channel beats for CRN. He keeps readers abreast of the latest issues related to such areas as data life-cycle, business continuity and disaster recovery, and data centers, along with related services and software, while highlighting some of the key trends that impact the IT channel overall. He can be reached at jkovar@thechannelcompany.com.

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