Delivery man

Thom Dammrich is good at his job, and he knows it.

Since he joined the industry as president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association in 1999, he has delivered results for the association that speak for themselves. [See sidebar, “Then and Now,” page 22]

But perhaps his biggest achievement has been in guiding the industry to consensus. The industry sectors once unable to reach agreement within their own ranks — much less with each other — now acknowledge that working together on the industry’s most important issues benefits them all.

No, Dammrich can’t take all the credit. And certainly, there remains much work to be done. But there is no doubt that he has been instrumental in transforming not only NMMA, but the industry.

Simply put, he embraces change and makes others around him want to change too. And while it’s clear who he works for and whose interests he protects, he’s able to see the big picture — that much more can be achieved together than apart.

There’s no magic involved. By putting in long hours, traveling 50-to-70 percent of his time, and sending and answering e-mails around the clock, he’s become one of the most visible and accessible leaders in the industry.

However, the biggest test of his abilities — and the biggest opportunity to leave a lasting impression on the industry — clearly lies with Grow Boating.

While a whole host of industry executives have been involved in crafting the Grow Boating Initiative, ultimately, it is Dammrich’s face most people associate with it, and it may be Dammrich, and thus NMMA, who ultimately get most of the credit — or the blame — for its outcome.

As the campaign kicks off this spring, the industry will be asking itself whether the initiative is delivering to its expectations and whether the initiative’s Task Forces are helping the industry meet its new customers’ expectations.

The following are excerpts from a recent interview with Dammrich, which has been edited for brevity and clarity. The full text of the interview is available on under Web Exclusives.


Boating Industry: When you first started your job, were you nervous, overwhelmed?

Dammrich: I’m still overwhelmed. Once I was in the job a few months, I came to a realization that there was a lot more work to be done than I had expected. I came from an industry where there was a very strong culture of cooperation and collaboration. There were pockets of that in the boating industry, but I didn’t see that same culture. And I knew that that was the direction we needed to move toward, and I knew it was going to be a lot of work. Culture change is always the most difficult thing. Culture change in a company is incredibly hard. Culture change in an industry is incredible.
Boating Industry: As a newcomer to this industry, what were your immediate objectives when you took the position?

Dammrich: In the first board meeting I went to, I said one of the things we have to do is focus on areas of agreement instead of areas of disagreement. You’re not going to get anything done by focusing on what you disagree on.

Boating Industry: Some in the industry talk about the marriage between dealers and manufacturers. Do you, in essence, end up becoming a marriage counselor?

Dammrich: Well, the manufacturers’ success is intimately tied to performance in all the other sectors of the industry as well. If we don’t provide a good sales and service experience at the dealer level, if we don’t provide a good experience in the marina, if we don’t provide a good service experience at the boatyard, then we’re not going to sell boats. We’re all tied together whether we recognize it or not. I’m not sure there was a recognition that we’re all tied together.

Boating Industry: Has it been difficult to get members to come together and agree on certain issues?

Dammrich: Members, other organizations, other segments of the industry, it’s been exhausting. But incredibly rewarding when you finally do find that common goal.

Boating Industry: People will tell you that the boating industry is known for being slow to change. Do you think that’s true?

Dammrich: When I got here, my impression was the boating industry was very slow to change, very resistant to change. Yet as I look back six years, there’s been a lot of change, and yet, a lot hasn’t changed. I think that there’s more recognition in the industry today that we need to change and that we need to focus on the customer more than we’ve ever seen before. I think when we look back in 5 or 10 years, we’re going to be absolutely amazed at how far we’ve come.


Boating Industry: In the beginning of Grow Boating, there seemed to be a certain amount of confusion about whose idea it was, who launched it. Can you talk a little bit about NMMA’s role and the idea’s conception?

Dammrich: Growing boating, as Phil Keeter will tell you, has been talked about for 20 or 25 years. It was never a new idea, and it takes a lot of people coming together to make it happen.

Two things were kind of happening simultaneously. In October of 2002, Bill Barrington became the chairman of NMMA, and Bill sent a letter to all NMMA members saying that during his two-year term as chairman, he had two priorities for NMMA. One was to take another look at growing boating and whether or not we could put together the plan and bring the industry together to fund the program to grow boating.

At about the same time, I’m going to say in February of 2003, at our dealer council meeting, Richard Strickler got a message loud and clear from his dealers, “We gotta do something to promote this industry.” Richard and I met up at National Marine Trades Council meeting in May of 2003 and Richard said, “We’ve got to stop the bleeding and we’ve got to grow boating, and GE’s committed to playing a leadership role and making it happen.” And I said, “We’re exactly on the same thought process. We want to relook at this whole grow boating thing. I was planning to bring together a group of industry leaders, why don’t we work together?”

And so, GE and NMMA called together a group of 35 industry leaders in October of 2003. GE paid for all the facilitation, NMMA paid for the meeting and the food, and we brought together 35 leaders. The rest is history, as they say. I give Bill Barrington a lot of credit for standing up and saying that maybe we need to take another look at this, I give Richard Strickler a lot of credit for taking a leadership role and saying, “Let’s get going.” The stars lined up.

Boating Industry: Despite the participation of the industry on the task forces, there seems to be a perception that NMMA is steering the Grow Boating effort.

Dammrich: NMMA has taken a very strong leadership role on Grow Boating and, frankly, I think the rest of the industry was looking to NMMA to take a strong leadership role. We have involved anybody else who wanted to be involved. MRAA and the dealer community has been very involved. They’re really taking the lead on the dealer certification part of it. The marina industry is taking the lead on the access part of this. But you also have to look at where’s the funding coming from.

Right now, almost all the funding is coming from the manufacturers and their dealers. So as long as manufacturers are paying the bill, they’re going to provide the direction. The goal at the outset here was that the manufacturers would provide a major part of the funding, but that we would look to every industry segment to step up and contribute. As we prepare the governance for Grow Boating, it’s really pay-to-play. Right now, the banking industry has stepped up with a model for contributing to Grow Boating. A number of individual companies have stepped up in a significant way to say they will be contributing to Grow Boating. A couple of MTAs have stepped up and indicated how they will be contributing to Grow Boating, but there are large segments of the industry that haven’t stepped up yet.

Boating Industry: Were you expecting that a larger segment of the industry would be able to contribute or would agree to contribute?

Dammrich: The expectation is that everybody would contribute. Everybody stands to benefit, everybody called for there to be a Grow Boating initiative and now we’ve got a $16 million plan, in the end, if necessary, $12 million. We need the rest of the industry to step up and get the balance of the $4 million.

Boating Industry: So what segments of the industry do you feel like are maybe underrepresented?

Dammrich: Well, just look at all the rest of them we haven’t mentioned: the marinas, the boatyards, the distributors, the mass retailers, the insurance companies. We’re hopeful that they’re all going to step up in a major way and we recognize that it also takes time. We have a long-term view on this. It’s not a flash in the pan.

Boating Industry: It seems like it took a long time for the industry to come together. Why do you think it’s happening now?

Dammrich: I think there are three reasons that it’s happening now. One is all of our efforts are grounded in sound research. We’re not making decisions based on opinion, on how people feel, we’re making decisions based on research, so fact-based decision making. Secondly, it’s not just an advertising campaign. Previous efforts, previous discussions were all about, ‘Let’s do an advertising campaign.’ Grow Boating this time around is not just an advertising campaign. And three, it is an integrated program that addresses the underlying issues that have challenged our industry for decades. It’s about improving product quality, it’s about improving the sales and service experience, it’s about improving access to water, all while at the same time promoting the positive messages of the boating lifestyle through advertising, public relations, event marketing and other marketing communications efforts.


Boating Industry: People talk about the egos and the sense of fierce independence in this industry. What about you? Do you have a big ego?

Dammrich: No. I don’t think so. Obviously we all have some ego, but I’ve always operated on the philosophy that a lot more gets done if you don’t worry about who gets the credit. I’m not looking for credit, I’m looking for results.

Boating Industry: Some people looking at your schedule might label you a workaholic. Do you think that’s a requirement of the position?

Dammrich: Well, it IS a requirement of the position. I certainly hope that the day is coming when 24/7 isn’t going to be necessary, but frankly, in the past six years, there has been a lot of work to do and I do it because I want to do it. I do it because I need to do it. It allows me to achieve success. And there are an awful lot of people out there who are responding to my e-mails at crazy hours. I’m not the only one.

Boating Industry: Many people have a private persona and a public persona. What about you? If we talked to your friends, your family, would they give us a different description than the person the industry knows?

Dammrich: I’ll tell you a quick little story. I went to a Bell Leadership Seminar, where they do a 360-degree review of you to help you see how you’re viewed by other people. Then they list what they perceive as your strengths and weaknesses. The one weakness that I disagreed with was, “Thom expects everyone to work as hard as he does.” I said, “No way. Just because I’m on e-mail at 1 a.m., I don’t expect anybody else to be on e-mail at 1 a.m.”

It just so happened the night I got back from the Bell seminar, we had a dinner party. And I was telling our friends about the Bell seminar because I was very excited about it and what I’d learned there. I was going through my whole results and I said, “You know the only thing I disagree with in this whole thing is that I expect people to work as hard as I do,” and everybody at the table burst into laughter. They said, “Thom, who are you kidding? Of course you do!” which just kind of shocked me.

Boating Industry: Do you think you’re good at your job?

Dammrich: Yes. There’s always room for improvement, but I think I’m good at it. I think I have a track record of success really over the last 25 or 30 years with three different groups, which pretty much speaks for itself.
Boating Industry: People like to blame the President when things go wrong with our country, and they sometimes forget about Congress. To what extent are you responsible for NMMA’s actions versus the board of directors?

Dammrich: My job is to execute on what the board of directors wants. I get a lot of credit when things go well and I get a lot of heat when things don’t and that’s probably the way it should be.

Boating Industry: The boating lifestyle: do you think you live it?

Dammrich: Not as much as I would like to. But when I have an opportunity to get out on a boat, I love it. It’s amazing because it does all the things we say it does. When I’m out on a boat, I forget about all that stuff that I have to deal with on land and it’s an escape from all the stress and all the problems. It really does all the things we say it does.

Boating Industry: How long would you like to stay at NMMA?

Dammrich: I’d like to retire here. I’m 53, so I’d like to be here another 10 or 12 years, if they’ll have me.

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