A lifetime of service: In conversation with Matt Zirkle, President, Wärtsilä Defense, Inc

Matt Zirkle’s professional career of four decades has been an extraordinary mix of business and military leadership founded on a life of service.  For Matt, this commitment started at the age of 17 when he earned the rank of Eagle Scout— the highest possible achievement awarded by the Boy Scouts of America.

He continued his life of service as a commissioned officer in the US Navy and the Navy Reserve, ultimately achieving the rank of a two-star Rear Admiral and serving as Chief of Staff for the US Naval Forces (Europe and Africa) and the US Sixth Fleet in Naples, Italy.  Simultaneously, Matt pursued a successful business career, starting in sales and marketing and culminating as a general manager and owner of several small businesses.

Now President of Wärtsilä Defense, Inc. (WDI) in Chesapeake, Virginia, Matt serves the US Navy from the other side, as a civilian with a blended perspective garnered from his extensive business and military experiences. “My involvement inside and outside the US Navy has been brought together into this fantastic leadership opportunity and positioned me to support the defense industry in so many ways, and from a unique point of view.”

Standout career moments

Matt’s travels have taken him all over the world and given him some pretty unusual experiences. “One of my most memorable experiences was surfacing at the North Pole in a submarine. Prior to surfacing, we circled around the pole essentially travelling through every time zone on the planet.  It was an unforgettable moment to be standing on top of the world.”

Serving in Europe over the past five years has had the biggest impact on Matt though, in terms of “understanding how other cultures work together to achieve greatness” and “appreciating the significance of history and global cooperation”.

But it’s the people that stand out most to Matt about Wӓrtsilӓ. “I am truly impressed by the immense amount of talent there is throughout the entire WDI team and Wӓrtsilӓ as a whole. Every morning I wake up excited to continue this journey with them and push the capabilities of the business.

Father. Husband. Leader.

Away from work, Matt likes to spend time with his family, travelling, gardening, swimming and playing card games (typically Set and Five Crowns).

Although born just outside of Chicago, Illinois, Matt considers California to be his home state. “What’s not to love about California? It is the only place I know where you can swim in the ocean and ski on the mountains on the very same day.”

Looking to the future

Since starting with Wӓrtsilӓ over three months ago, Matt’s focus has been on learning the business and building credibility with stakeholders. “Long term, my vision is to take WDI to the next level, not only in terms of sales growth, but also employee morale, innovation, compliance, marketing, quality and much more.  With such a talented team, the sky’s the limit!”

Written by
Gemma Lake