RouseConnect: Matthew Cheetham

Published on 07 Oct 2019 | 4 min read

From film to football

Matt spent several years as an enforcement lawyer in our Jakarta office, before leaving to work for the Motion Picture Association.  He is now Head of Business Affairs, Asia Pacific, for the Premier League, managing its regional office in Singapore and overseeing enforcement efforts in the region.

Matt is one of those people who always seem to land on their feet: everything just seems to fall into place.  These days he says his role with the Premier League is as much pleasure as it is work.  Although he’s inclined to say, casually, that he just ‘got lucky’, the truism that you make your own luck has probably never been more apt. 

He grew up and went to school in Lower Hutt, a small city in the Wellington Region on the south-western tip of the North Island of New Zealand.  In primary school he was always one of the brightest in the class, but in high school it was a different story: there were other bright kids, and to keep your position you had to work.  The problem was that Matt wasn’t particularly interested in schoolwork and, when he was 16, he decided to leave school and get a job.

After a couple of years, by which time he was running out of money and could see his mates from school having a good time at University, he decided he’d made a mistake and returned to finish his final year of schooling.  Then he  enrolled in Law at the University of Otago in Dunedin – motivated, he says, only by the desire to be with his friends.  He had no idea what he wanted to do and chose Law only because a friend suggested it on the ground that he was competitive and argumentative.  He remembers his mother saying that he wouldn’t know what he wanted to do until he was 25; in the event, it took him until he was 28.

By then, he had spent a couple of years in Japan teaching English and returned to New Zealand, still without any idea of what he wanted to do. At this point, he decided on a change of direction and enrolled in an architecture course at University on the basis that he liked buildings.  He soon found, however, that for architecture you needed some mathematical ability; he decided it wasn’t for him after all.  Then the friend who had suggested he study Law in the first place came to his aid again.  Matt loved music and his friend suggested a Master of Laws, specialising in Intellectual Property, at Victoria University of Wellington.

It turned out to be a very good suggestion.  Matt enjoyed the course enormously - even though when it finished, he wasn’t any more enthusiastic about the prospect of being a lawyer.  Still, he applied to A. J. Park, a well-known New Zealand IP firm, and this time perhaps there was an element of luck involved.   Matt had been good at cricket at school and his CV had ended up on the desk of a partner who played cricket and who had gone to his school.  Whether or not there was an element of luck, he was offered a job, and he accepted.  He hadn’t been there for long when he bumped into Luke Minford, who he had known at university.  At the time, Luke was in New Zealand talking about IP in China. 

Not long after that, Luke contacted Matt to see if he’d be interested in a job in Dubai, with a tax-free salary that was nearly seven times what he was getting in New Zealand.  That job ultimately fell through, but there was another job going in Indonesia – at three times his NZ salary, before tax.  While not quite the riches Luke had first offered, it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up and Matt joined our Jakarta office to work as an enforcement lawyer. 

It was good experience and he enjoyed the work, but after a while began to feel he wasn’t really in his element.  So when the Motion Picture Association, one of the firm’s biggest clients, asked him to join its Singapore office, he was keen to do so.  It worked out well: he stayed there for 10 years in all, starting as Director of Operations, and subsequently working as Legal Counsel and Assistant Policy Officer.  This time he’d found something that really suited him: he was much more comfortable working on strategy and policy matters and paying lawyers to do the detailed legal work.

But that’s not all he found in Singapore.  As he puts it, he arrived there with a backpack and left, 10 years later, with a wife, a stepdaughter and three other children.  By this time, his parents were getting older and he wanted them to be able to spend time with their grandchildren.  He also wanted his children to experience growing up in New Zealand. 

When an opportunity opened up in the MPA’s New Zealand office he took it and in 2014 was appointed Managing Director of the New Zealand Screen Association and the family moved to Auckland. Moving to New Zealand was an excellent choice for both work and play. New Zealand’s Copyright Act was being reviewed and Matt found himself at the front of a battle between rights holders and big tech over the direction copyright should take. And the family settled in well, the kids in particular enjoying the lifestyle of sun, sport and beaches. 

Unfortunately, in 2018 the MPA went through a restructure and closed a number of its offices, including the New Zealand Screen Association.  They offered Matt a job back in Singapore, but although he’d been happy there, he somehow felt he would be going backwards.  Then he fell on his feet again.  The Premier League had contacted a friend of his, asking if he knew of anyone who might be suitable to manage its regional office in Singapore and oversee enforcement efforts in the region.  The friend immediately thought of Matt.  Matt says the job description could have been written with him in mind, the fit was so perfect.

It has turned out to be everything he hoped it would be: finally, he really is in his element.  He loves his work, but doesn’t let it rule his life.  He arrives in the office at 7.30am each morning and tries to leave at 5.30pm, as he has always done, which allows him to spend time with his wife and children.  He’s also a voracious reader, particularly enamoured with Nordic noir and historical books and authors like Robert Harris, and still loves listening to music, particularly early ‘90s British bands and dancing (though he dances only on the inside). 

He says that, at this stage, his children seem much more focused than he ever was:  his 11 year old daughter wants to be a vet; his nine year old son a farmer – or a gamer; and his seven year old daughter a doctor.  Hopefully, they’ll also have inherited something of their father’s ability to land on his feet.

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Rouse Editor
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+44 20 7536 4100