Interview with Thom Dammrich, NMMA president

Boating Industry (BI): In our interview today, I’d like to focus on how the NMMA has changed since you joined as president.

Thom Dammrich: Five years ago, I said, during the next five years, we need to focus on what will make a difference to our members – on adding value, adopting an outside in perspective, show acquisitions as resources allow, evaluating and canceling underperforming shows. And in fact in the last six years, we’ve cancelled seven shows and we’ve bought six or seven shows. But we’ve bought six or seven really strong shows; we cancelled seven weak shows.

We needed to create a culture where our members felt like they were owners of the organization. Our assumptions five years ago were that we were going to need to grow our advocacy significantly at both the state and federal level, that we needed to significantly grow our market research and statistics area, that MAATS and BoatBuilding (see, this is from 2000) success were going to be necessary to contribute to the bottom line, that membership would continue to be challenging, but would grow as we added value beyond shows and then member education would become more important. Well, the last one didn’t materialize. But, all the rest have and in fact membership hasn’t really been challenging. Membership has grown dramatically.

BI: As a newcomer to our industry, what were your immediate objectives when you took the position and how they changed over time?

Dammrich: The immediate objective was just to get my arms around the industry and learn as much as I could. It was clear very early that we needed to reach out to other segments of the industry and develop more positive and productive working relationships. At the time IMTEC was a major issue. We needed to deal with that issue. Related to that issue, we needed to figure our how we were going to replace the incomes of IMTEC. We had to really change the whole perception of NMMA to be more open, more inclusive, more member driven.

BI: Okay, so how have your objectives changed over time? What are your objectives today and why are they different? Have you accomplished what you set out to achieve at that point?

Dammrich: You know, it’s interesting. What we did, one of the things we needed to do early on was focus on what was most important and so we spent a fair amount of time working with the board of directors and the executive committee trying to identify what our major areas of focus should be. It was narrowed down to five things we should be focusing on: public policy advocacy; promotion of boating, which includes boat shows and Discover Boating; market research and statistics; quality assurance certification and now CSI is part of that; and communication – better communicating to our members and the industry what we were doing. So those have been our focus for the last three or four years and continue to be our focus. Related to each of those areas, we developed a very specific strategic initiative. Two years ago, two or two and a half years ago, we said we need to create consensus around a plan to grow boating and get industry buy-in. That’s been a major strategic initiative for two and a half years and we’re there today.

We also said that we need to reverse the decline in boat show attendance. We need a strategy for building attendance 25 percent over the next five years and that was two years ago. We said we need a strategy to improve the consumer experience and the retail environment at shows to make the shows more attractive to consumers. We said we needed to, with respect to the market research and the statistics, we needed to do more research on demographic, psychographic-type research, economic benefit-type research and provide this information to our members. Eventually, it evolved into this concept of through research and statistics, creating a center of knowledge for the industry as a resource.

We need to improve our communications. We’ve introduced Currents, Boating News Net, Washington Wave. We communicate extensively. We communicate with the trade press a lot better today than we did.

BI: What did you do differently?

Dammrich: One of the first things I did, we had a meeting in 2000 where we invited all the consumer and trade boating publications in. I did a presentation on “Ten Myths About NMMA.” Have you ever seen that? I took all the things that everybody was saying about NMMA and I just put them right out there on the board. I said, you know, I know this is what everybody says, but here’s the facts. That everybody says NMMA is run by this staff in this ivory tower in Chicago that’s completely out of touch with the industry and, you know, why are you in that high rent building in Chicago wasting our money? Well, the fact was that what we’re paying for rent in that building is dirt cheap. It’s cheaper than if we went into a class B building somewhere because we got lucky and had a great deal. There were ten things and I just went through each one of them and it was talking to people and being honest with people. Admitting our flaws and telling people where we were trying to go.

I said this I think in the first board meeting I went to, I said one of the things we have to do is we need to focus on areas of agreement instead of areas of disagreement.

BI: This is to your board?

Dammrich: Yeah. I think that even within the industry, everybody focused on everything that we disagreed on. You’re not going to get anything done by focusing on what you disagree on, so if we disagree, let’s put it aside and we’ll focus on what we agree on and let’s work on what we agree on.

BI: Some in the industry talk about the marriage between dealers and manufacturers. My question is, in terms of your role, do you, in essence, end up being a marriage counselor? To what extent do you negotiate compromises between different sectors of the industry? You obviously represent the manufacturers, but a large part of what NMMA seems to be doing is building consensus as an industry, especially with Grow Boating, trying to work together as an industry to achieve industry-wide objectives, not just objectives with the manufacturers.

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 boat yard, etc, etc, etc… then you’re not going to sell boats, so 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.

BI: As far as your personal role goes, to what extent do you end up being a mediator or being a consensus builder?

Dammrich: I have spent over the last six years a huge amount of time with other segments of the industry other than the manufacturers. Their associations, their boards, their leaders, trying to understand what their needs were vis-a-vis what the manufacturers’ needs are and trying to find common ground where we can work together so that everybody wins and we grow boating.

BI: Would you say that that’s one of your more fundamental roles?

Dammrich: Yes. This is my performance review, which I’m not going to share with you.

BI: Who’s reviewing you? Your members?

Dammrich: The executive committee. NMMA executive committee. But here’s one, two, three, four, five, six, seven things. These are the seven things they wanted me to do and that they evaluate me on every year. And the number one thing is serve as the catalyst for developing partnership and cooperation among members and staff and other segments of the industry and develop strategies to promote and revitalize the marine industry. Number one charge.

Number two is maintain regular communications with members regarding their needs from the association and serve as a resource on issues affecting their business and then it goes on to, you know, directing the development of long and short-range objectives, balances, budgets, operating plans, etc. and implementing them serving as the chief spokesman and representing the association, the staff, the finances and the operating and strategic stuff. My direction from the start was go out there and develop partnerships and cooperation.

BI: Someone I know who’s relatively new to the industry recently told me that they had underestimated the egos in our industry. That’s a quote from them. To what extent do you think that that tradition of independence and that fierce pride and ego, to what extent is it a strength and to what extent is it a liability?

Dammrich: I would say that I don’t think historically the marine industry has had a strongly imbued culture of cooperation. It has historically [consisted of] a lot of fiercely independent entrepreneurs and it’s a very competitive industry. In the marketplace, it is very competitive and there are friendly competitors in the industry, but it’s not as universal as you find in some other industries. Although, there are also industries that are even more competitive and less friendly competitors than the boating industry. Most of the innovation in our country comes from small businesses and entrepreneurs, so that’s a strength, but I think there’s a growing recognition that the real power of an association like NMMA is that there are things that we can accomplish working together that no individual company can accomplish on their own and those things that impact your business that you can’t accomplish on your own are best accomplished through an association.

BI: Has it been difficult to work with members to get them 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, that common ground to come together to do something positive.

BI: How would you describe that role that you play?

Dammrich: A listener, a facilitator, consensus builder, leader.

BI: Coming to our industry with experience in other industries, how does the boating industry compare? How would you describe our industry to an outsider in terms of the dynamics between the individual companies and between the individual sectors?

Dammrich: What do you mean by dynamics?

BI: I think it has changed somewhat in recent years, but certainly in the past there was a lot of talk about the strained relationships between the different sectors in our industry, between manufacturers and dealers, in particular.

Dammrich: I don’t think that the dynamics of a manufacturer/dealer relationship in the boating industry are very different than they are in any other industry with manufacturers and dealers. There are some differences, but the basic conflicts between different segments in the industry, between suppliers and customers, are no different than the marine industry.

BI: Let’s talk a little bit about funding. It seems to me that NMMA has expanded quite a bit. Since you joined as president, the scope of what NMMA has accomplished has grown. How has NMMA changed from a revenue standpoint or a funding standpoint over the years and how does that correspond with the expansion that seems to have taken place?

Dammrich: We get about 50 percent of the money that we have to spend on advocacy, promotion, communications, research, and quality assurance – the programs for the industry – about half of our revenue for those programs comes from boat shows. The other half comes from dues, certification fees and other sources of revenue, sponsorships for the mobile marketing tour and other things.

BI: When you say shows, are you talking about trade shows as well as boat shows?

Dammrich: Yeah. Our gross revenue in the last five years has grown about 45 percent. The money available to spend on programs for our member and the industry has grown about 80 percent.

BI: So a lot of the increase in revenue has gone toward other programs?

Dammrich: All of our revenue, I mean all of our net revenues go into programs for the industry. NMMA spent last year, out of its budget, a million dollars on the Grow Boating initiative in addition to the million dollars that our members contributed and the half a million dollars the rest of that the industry contributed.

BI: Are there any numbers that you’re willing to share as far as total revenue is concerned?

Dammrich: Our budget, not including Grow Boating – leave the Grow Boating dollars out of it – the net revenues available for programs is about 17 and a half million dollars. And that’s up about 60 percent from five years ago. And we have not increased space rates on our shows. It has come from show acquisitions, from growth in membership, growth in certification programs, growth in sponsorship of Discover Boating and Take Me Fishing Tour, those kinds of things.

BI: Was that one of the major goals that you had coming into the organization or one of the major things you were charged with in coming into the organization was increasing that revenue?

Dammrich: No, the charge was the things I talked about earlier. And the charge was really to make NMMA an effective value-adding organization to the members and, you know, I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years, and my experience, everywhere I’ve been is if you are providing valuable things to the industry, your revenues grow.

BI: What about the mission of NMMA? The mission statement. Has it changed a lot since you joined as president?

Dammrich: Well, again, one of the early things we did was sit down and write a vision and mission statement. There was a mission in the by laws of the organization that talked about promoting boating and similar things, but we established a vision together making boating the number one choice in recreation, which emphasized that we needed to get everyone working together and do the right things that were going to help all Americans aspire to go boating. Our mission was to create, promote and protect an environment where our members could achieve financial success. So excellence in manufacturing and selling and servicing their customers with the key words in there is that we became focused on doing things to help our members be financially successful. That’s our measure of success.

BI: And it hasn’t changed much?

Dammrich: That’s our mission and vision in the last five years. And my guess is it’ll be our mission for the next ten years.

BI: How has your employee base changed over time?

Dammrich: When I joined NMMA, we had 134 employees. That staff decreased in the first couple of years to about 120.

BI: Why did it decrease?

Dammrich: Well, because we canceled IMTEC. And we were focusing our effort and ceasing to do some things and money was tight and we needed to shrink a little bit, but, in the past two or three years, the number of staff has grown back up to about 136 and we’re budgeted to add six more staff next year, largely related to staffing up for all of the activity related to Grow Boating. We’re 45 percent larger this year in revenues and we have two more staff today than the day I started.

BI: How about members? How has that changed over time?

Dammrich: We had about 1,200 members six years ago and today we have about 1,580, so we’ve had about a 32 percent increase in membership.

BI: And how has that been accomplished? Why do you think more folks have decided to join NMMA?

Dammrich: I can only say it’s because they see the value of the organization. I mean, we are dealing with more issues in Washington and the states than ever before and we’re dealing with them effectively. At the risk of not being humble, I think we’re doing a good job, and we’re adding value and people recognize it.

BI: Perception. We talked earlier about some of the perception challenges that NMMA had when you first came on board. Can you just speak a little bit about how you think that perception has changed? Your scope is bigger, you’re a bigger organization. It used to be perceived that NMMA was at the top of the tower looking down on the rest of the industry, that it was a large, kind of controlling giant, right? You’re bigger now.

Dammrich: We’re bigger, but we’re more open, we’re more inclusive, we’re more member driven, we’re more engaged with the industry. People on the staff are out in the field, they’re out in our members’ plants. We are much more strategic in our approach to things today. When I got here, the number one reason that people belonged to the NMMA was for a boat show discount. I said at that time that we will have succeeded, or we will have gone where I wanted to take the organization when the boat show discount was the number two reason people joined. There was another reason, whether it was advocacy or it was Grow Boating or whatever.

Boat shows are incredibly important to the industry and we’re committed to delivering the best boat shows we can to help sell products in the industry, but we had to eliminate this perception that we were just a show management company, because we were much, much, much more than that.

I think today that we are change-initiators. We are leading change in this industry. We are much more proactive. We are doing it by building consensus among our members and others in the industry about what we need to do in order to move the industry forward, in order to grow the industry. There’s recognition that we’re never going to grow the industry without addressing some of the issues that have challenged us for years and years and years. We’re starting to address some of those issues but some of them are huge. Access is a huge issue, huge issue.

BI: I wanted to talk about Grow Boating. In the beginning of Grow Boating, there seemed to be a certain amount of confusion about whose idea it was, who launched it. Richard Strickler came out with his letter to the industry. 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 being talked about for 20 or 25 years. So, it was never a new idea and it takes a lot of people coming together to make this happen. I’ve always lived by the adage that a lot more gets done if you don’t worry about who gets the credit for it, so I don’t worry about who gets the credit.

Two things were kind of happening simultaneously. Let’s see, this is 2005, four, so 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. He said, you know, maybe it’s time to take another look at it. The second thing he wanted to accomplish was to double the size of our political action committee and then challenge us to double it again. We’ve accomplished both of those things.

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 food sorts of things and we brought together 35 leaders and the rest is history, as they say. I give Bill Barrington a lot of credit for standing up and saying that NMMA, 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.

BI: Going backwards a little, we were talking about shows. Did you say that you have the same number of consumer shows today because you’ve eliminated some and you’ve replaced some?

Dammrich: Yeah, actually I think we’ve got a couple more. We say we have 23 consumer shows, but that includes four or five Strictly Sail shows, a couple of which are owned by Sail America, so NMMA owned consumer shows is probably 20 or 21.

BI: And do you know how many there were when you started?

Dammrich: There were probably close to the same number. Yeah, it was probably close to the same number. The problem is, we eliminated Racine, Middle Tennessee, Florida State, Georgia, Arkansas and Philadelphia, but we purchased the four general sports shows: Minneapolis, Northwest Sports Show, Des Moines, Kansas City; Louisville and Atlantic City, so that’s six. So there may actually be one less show, but the new shows are larger, stronger, more important shows than the ones we no longer do.

BI: What about on the trade side? Did you just have IMTEC when you started?

Dammrich: Yeah, it was just IMTEC. And today there’s MAATS and IBEX.

BI: There seems to be a perception that NMMA is kind of running the show as far as Grow Boating is concerned. Certainly, there’s the participation of the entire industry in the task forces, but can you speak a little bit to NMMA’s role in Grow Boating, what you see it as and to what extent NMMA is steering the effort?

Dammrich: Well, I mean, 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 have been very involved. We’re consulting with them regularly on this whole thing. They’re really taking the lead on the dealer certification part of it. The marina industry is kind of taking the lead on the access part of this. But you also have to look at where’s the funding coming from. The funding is coming, right now, almost all the funding is coming from the manufacturers. 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 a pay-to-play. And frankly, 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.

BI: 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. When I say manufacturers, I mean manufacturers and their dealers because the engine surcharge goes all the way through that supply chain, so when I say manufacturers, I’m referring to the manufacturers and their dealers.

BI: 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 boat yards, 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, this is a long term effort, it’s not a flash in the pan.

BI: It seems like it took a long time for the industry to kind of come together, for the industry to agree on a plan, on a way to do things. Why do you think that it’s happening now?

Dammrich: I think there are three reasons that it’s happening now, where it hasn’t happened in the past. 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.

BI: Turning to a little bit more of a personal element, everybody brings certain strengths and weaknesses to their job, things that are easier for them and things that are more challenging. What are your biggest challenges in your job as president of NMMA?

Dammrich: What are my biggest challenges? The biggest challenge is helping the industry and helping our members reach successes on what we do. I happen to believe that through an association, an industry can accomplish almost anything that they set their minds to. The hard part is getting everybody to agree on what that direction should be, so that’s been a challenge. Once we get agreement and once we decide where we’re going, we’re usually pretty effective in getting there.

BI: It seems like people in the industry agree that you’ve been particularly good at getting the industry to come together to reach a compromise and to move forward. What do you think it is that you bring to the table that’s allowed the industry to compromise on so many different things and come together on so many different issues?

Dammrich: Oh, gosh, I think people give me too much credit. But let me say this, I think there’s no secret, it’s just hard work, persistence, personal contact, that’s why I’m on the road 50, 60, 70 percent of the time. It’s all about relationships. I’ve tried to work very hard to build strong relationships with all the segments of the industry.

BI: While the industry often hears about and knows about the end results of your efforts, most of your members and probably most of the industry, they’re oblivious to the day-to-day operation of NMMA and what you do there. What insights can you give them about the view on the inside?

Dammrich: Well, it’s no secret. It’s the same thing they do every day. It’s hard work. It’s understanding what everybody’s needs are and trying to satisfy those needs. Our mission is to create the most protective environment where our members can achieve financial success, so we really try to focus on areas where we can add real value to their ability to be financially successful.

BI: What do you end up spending most of your time on in your job? Certainly you do a lot of traveling.

Dammrich: To tell you the truth, I spend a lot of time in meetings, I spend a lot of time on strategy, I spend a lot of time on making sure staff are executing on the direction and strategy that we’ve chosen, I spend a lot of time with people – members, other industry segments and staff. And we just don’t give up. We’re persistent.

BI: People talk about the egos and the sense of fierce independence in our 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. And that’s my philosophy. I’m not looking for credit, I’m looking for results.

BI: Some people looking at your schedule might label you a workaholic. Do you think that’s a requirement of the position? It seems like you’re on 24/7, Thom.

Dammrich: Well, it’s a requirement of the position. I certainly hope that the day is coming very soon when 24/7 isn’t going to be necessary, but frankly, in the past six years, there’s 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 gets me to achieve the levels of success on things that we have. And, I’ll be honest with you, there’s an awful lot of people out there who are responding to my emails at crazy hours, so I’m not the only one.

BI: You said that you do it because you want to do it. Can you speak a little bit about, on a personal level, what you get out of your job, what you enjoy about your job, what keeps you in your position, what drives you?

Dammrich: I think anybody in the association, me in particular, I get most of my satisfaction from helping people. When we’re able to do things that can help our members be successful or we can help them with a problem or we can get them some information that they need, whatever it is, whenever we can be helpful, that’s where I derive most of my satisfaction and from feeling like you’re making a difference.

BI: Some 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 of who you are than the face, the person the people in the industry know?

Dammrich: That’s an excellent question. I guess I don’t know how people see me so, whether in the business or in personal life, so it’s hard for me to say. I’ll tell you a quick little story, although I’m not sure that I, well I’ll tell you the whole story. I went to a Bell Leadership Seminar. They do a 360 degree review of you so that they can try to help you see how you are viewed by other people and eight people fill out this questionnaire they’ve written. Among the things they do is list what they perceive as your strengths and weaknesses. I agreed with everything I saw in the report except one thing and these things were all filled out by, one was filled out by my wife, the rest were all filled out by people at NMMA that I work with and the one thing that I disagreed with was a weakness was Thom expects everyone to work as hard as he does. And I said no way, just because I’m on email at one a.m., I don’t expect anybody else to be on email at one a.m. I don’t expect everybody to work as hard as I do.

Now, one of the things Bell has you do is take the results, go back and share the results with the people you work with. It just so happened the night I got back from the Bell seminar, we had a dinner party and we had three or four couples that are very close friends of ours and I was telling them about the Bell seminar because I was very excited about it and what I’d learned there and 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 and said Thom, who are you kidding? Of course you do! Which just kind of shocked me, because I don’t work with these people, these are just friends, I only see them socially. I don’t know if that helps you or not.

BI: Yeah, that helps. Do you think you’re good at your job?

Dammrich: Do I think that I’m good at my job? Yes. There’s always room for improvement, absolutely, 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.

BI: 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, so, whatever the board of directors decides becomes my mission. 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, but I’ll tell you, the other thing is the NMMA board has been extremely supportive of me, the staff and the organization and they are always there, whether it’s good or bad, to deal with whatever has to be dealt with. They are constantly stepping up and involved.

BI: How much do you get to bring your own personal perspective to the job, then? I’m just trying to get a better feel for that balance, I guess. Do you have your own personal ideas about where you think things have to go and do you bring those to the board and try and convince them?

Dammrich: I always share with the board and the leadership of NMMA and leadership of other organizations in the industry and other boards I’m on, I always share with them my own personal perspective and opinions, but at the end of the day, once the decision is made, I support the decision.

BI: We talked a lot about the changes that have taken place over the past five or six years and certainly it seems like it’s been a time of change for NMMA and the industry. What do you think allowed those changes to take place? Was it you? Was it a board of directors? Was it something in particular in terms of timing for our industry? What has made this such a time of change?

Dammrich: I think there has been a lot of change. I think a lot of it occurred because it needed to occur. My role has been that of facilitator. From NMMA’s perspective, I simply helped to facilitate change that members wanted, but in the presentation I sent you, back in 2000, I said that NMMA was perceived as resistant to change and that we had to become an initiator of change and I think that’s where we are today. We are an agent for change today.

BI: If NMMA was perceived as resisting change in the past, was it just coincidence that you showed up on the scene and members decided things had to change? It just seems to me a little too much of a coincidence.

Dammrich: I think members wanted change and my role was to help them to make the change they wanted to see.

BI: Maybe they didn’t have that help in the past that they might have wanted?

Dammrich: I wasn’t here. I don’t know. I will say this, that I had a guy that I worked for one time who told me that in his opinion, all real change came from outside. And so I think just introducing a new element, a new president of NMMA, whether it was me or somebody else, was going to create change. But you also have change, there’s also that other change going on in the industry at the same time. Changes in leadership of corporations, changes in companies, going out of business, you know what I mean? The whole dynamic is constantly changing.

BI: People will tell you that the boating industry is known for being slow to change. You always hear about how far we are behind other industries. Do you think that’s no longer true?

Dammrich: No, we don’t think that’s no longer true. I think the boating industry is … well, let me think about that. 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 as well, but 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 than we’ve ever seen before. I think when we look back in five or ten years, we’re going to be absolutely amazed at how far we’ve come – if we’re able to execute on all the aspects of the Grow Boating initiative.

BI: Is there still doubt in your mind that we will?

Dammrich: No, no doubt in my mind.

BI: Going back to the beginning. Tell me a little bit about when you first started your job. Were you nervous? Where you overwhelmed? What was your initial impression of what you had ahead of you?

Dammrich: I’m still overwhelmed. My first impression … it was more a feeling of anticipation and opportunity when I took the job. I think as 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.

BI: Anything in particular that made you feel that way?

Dammrich: I came from an industry where there was a very strong culture of cooperation and collaboration, and there were pockets of that in the boating industry, but I didn’t see that same culture in the boating industry. And I knew that that was the direction we needed to move toward, we needed to work toward, and I knew it was going to be a lot of work. Culture change is always the most difficult thing and culture change in a company is incredibly hard. Culture change in an industry is incredible.

BI: Do you think we’re there?

Dammrich: I think the industry is working together today much better than it probably ever has and that’s the only way that we’ve really gotten as far as we have with the Grow Boating initiative is a recognition that we have to work together to tackle some of these bigger issues that are beyond the capabilities of any individual companies.

BI: What’s been your moment of highest stress or anxiety as NMMA president?

Dammrich: Moment of highest stress or anxiety….

BI: Certainly there’ve been a lot of fires to put out, I would guess. Has there been one that has stuck out?

Dammrich: One moment… I can’t think of a moment. Every day brings new challenges and you just keep working them.

BI: Any greatest triumphs so far?

Dammrich: Certainly the progress we’ve made on the Grow Boating initiative is probably the biggest triumph. Bringing BoatBuilding and IBEX together into one event was a major triumph, those are probably the most significant ones. Lots of smaller ones.

BI: The boating lifestyle: do you think you live it?

Dammrich: Do I live it? Not as much as I would like to. 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 escape from all the stress and all the problems. It really does all the things we say it does and when I have the opportunity to get out, and I try to get out as often as I can in the summer. Yes, in those cases, I live a boating lifestyle, but, do I get out as much as I wish I would? No.

BI: And you don’t own your own boat, right?

Dammrich: I do not own my own boat.

BI: Do you think you ever will?

Dammrich: Perhaps in retirement.

BI: Do you think that if you don’t live the boating lifestyle that you can still sell it?

Dammrich: I think you can, but I think you’re more effective if you’ve experienced it yourself. Which is why we ask a member to give us a boat every summer and why I try to go boating as much as I can and why we try to get other staff out boating as much as we can, because if you have experienced it, you can be much more passionate about it.

BI: How long would you like to stay at NMMA?

Dammrich: I’d like to retire here.

BI: How far away is that?

Dammrich: You want me to tell you how old I am?

BI: Sure.

Dammrich: I’d like to stay here til I’m 65 and I’m 53, so I’d like to be here another 10 or 12 years, if they’ll have me.

BI: Any one thing that sticks out as something you’d like to accomplish before you retire? Any long term goals like that that would be very important to see accomplished?

Dammrich: We are just at the very, very, very beginning of this whole Grow Boating initiative and quite frankly, if we get as many dealers certified as we possibly can and we get all the manufacturers certified and we’ve improved the boating experience so that boating is growing and we’re communicating, this whole Grow Boating initiative is going to take several years and that’s really where my focus is right now – on making all of the elements of Grow Boating as successful as they can be so that we can return boating to growth and so that we can introduce more people to the benefits that we enjoy from boating.

BI: When you think about the industry’s future, what is your number one concern? Grow Boating, you sort of set that on a path. You say that you’re very confident in its success. Is there one thing? Access, maybe?

Dammrich: I think access is probably the Achilles’ heel. And I don’t think it’s going to be an issue, but … there are a couple things. One, if fuel prices went to five or six dollars a gallon, that could be disastrous. If the government does something, like the luxury tax or eliminating the mortgage interest deduction for second homes so that people couldn’t take that deduction and use if for a second home. Those are the things that could derail us in a major way that we’ve got to keep our eye on.

BI: And you would include access as one of those as well?

Dammrich: Access is already critical in some parts of the country and access isn’t going to surprise me. Those other things could surprise us. Access isn’t going to surprise us and there are answers to the access issue, we’ve just got to find them. I don’t know if the boating industry by itself has the answer to gasoline at five or six dollars a gallon and obviously we’ll do everything in our power to prevent the government from taking some action that’s going to destroy the industry. The problem with access is that it’s fought at a very local level. All those access issues are fought at a very local level. Now I think we’ve got find a way to do a better job of arming and helping local boating groups be more effective in dealing with these issues. We just can’t fight every local access issue. But if we don’t, we’re going to get … there’ll just be little bites and eventually it’s all gone.

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