Industry Mourns Loss Of Passionate, Jovial Channel Chief Matt Ireland

Matt Ireland, a channel chief and soccer coach revered by colleagues and peers for his infectious personality and eagerness to listen, died Jan. 2. He was 43.

Ireland first became acquainted with solution providers in January 2014 as a strategic channel manager for security intelligence vendor FireMon and quickly worked his way up the ranks before landing a channel chief role at security device automation vendor BackBox a year ago.

But Ireland will be equally well-remember for his love of barbecue and passion for soccer, which he spent more than two decades coaching. Ireland's ability to teach the fundamentals, sweat the details, and inspire and motivate others on the pitch ended up preparing him well for life in the channel.

[Related: Pushing Further Into The Cloud, FireMon Acquires Security Broker FortyCloud]

Sponsored post

"He would come in with a big smile, a happy attitude, and energy, and say 'let's get this done,'" said Todd DeBell, who supervised Ireland for two-and-a-half years at FireMon. "He brightened up all of our sales meetings and events."

BlackLake Security CEO Mark Jones has been meeting with channel managers in the IT security industry for more than two decades, and said Ireland was one of the best he's ever encountered despite being relatively new. Ireland would always have a big smile on his face whenever he walked into the room, and Jones said conversations with him always felt like speaking with a family member.

"He's always give you a big hug," Jones said. "There weren't a lot of handshakes."

Jones said Ireland was "one of the most caring guys in the business," and would on the drop of a dime get involved with a problematic deal at 7 p.m. on a Friday to make sure it went through before the end of the quarter. And once any issues were troubleshooted, Ireland would want to go out for lunch and discuss how he could be a better partner to their business.

"He's a person that understands that people buy from people," Jones said. "At the end of the day, it's a very small industry."

One of Ireland's favorite ways to get to know channel partners better was to bring his wife and family to events such as a dinner during the 2016 RSA conference and invite solution providers to do the same, Jones said. Ireland never attempted to keep work and his personal life separate, and would invite business associates to spend time around his family, DeBell said.

Ireland excelled at handling prickly or sensitive conversations such as a channel partner upset about pricing or a competitive situation and coming up with a win-win situation, according to DeBell.

"He was the guy who could bring folks back to 'let's take care of the customers,'" DeBell said. "I don't care how difficult the situation was. He always found a positive outcome."

DeBell's favorite memory with Ireland was one of their first events together when the two were giving away a safari trip in Africa to partners that hit a certain revenue threshold. In order to drum up interest in the giveaway, the two actually brought a live zebra to the event.

"We had 40 to 50 vendors that hated us because everyone was hanging out with us that night," said DeBell, who said Ireland spent the rest of his time at FireMon trying to top that "zebra moment."

Ireland's personality and knowledge of the solution provider community allowed BackBox to grow its North American channel business more during his brief tenure than it had in the previous three years combined, according to company CEO Rafi Zvi.

"What Matt really brought to the company was heart," Zvi said. "He brought soul and passion to everything he had done for us."

BackBox experienced an "180-degree shift" in the channel's receptiveness to the company during Ireland's tenure thanks to his ability to identify the right contacts in an organization and his willingness to push joint events and campaigns, according to Zvi.

"The door-opener is never the technology," Zvi said. "The reason people were willing to talk to us was because of him, and the personal relationships he brought in."

Ireland's final project for BackBox was creating a real partner portal that introduces deal registration and at last gets the company away having to exchange email and excel spreadsheets for partners, which Zvi said should set the company up for success in 2018.

Despite the time difference, there wasn't a week in the past nine months that Zvi and Ireland didn't speak on at least four occasions. Zvi said he always appreciated Ireland's commitment to delivering the brutal truth and avoiding sugar-coating problems.

"On a personal level, those were the calls I really loved having with him," "I was waiting for those calls everyday."

Zvi's most fond memory with Ireland occurred late at night following a trade show in the Israeli seaside town of Eilat, where the two passed time sitting on a porch and singing songs together.

"He knew how to take every situation and have fun," Zvi said.

Ireland is survived by both his parents, his wife Sarah, and his two sons: Sebastian, 15; and Brock, 4. Sarah created a GoFundMe to cover short-term medical and future educational expenses for Sebastian and Brock, which as of Monday afternoon has raised $16,300 from 134 donors in just four days.

Ireland had such a big circle of professional and soccer-related connections that well-wishers had to be turned away from the filled-to-capacity Porter Funeral Home Saturday. One of those in attendance was Zvi, who came all the way from Israel to remember and mourn his newfound friend.

"Even though we were 6,000 miles away, I always felt like we were together in this," Zvi said. "He was going to stay with us until we turned off the lights."