Thom Dammrich was inducted into the National Marine Manufacturers Association Hall of Fame this morning during the Industry Breakfast at the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference — a day after he announced he would retire at the end of 2019.
Dammrich, who has been NMMA president for 19 years, shied away from taking credit for the industry’s successes, preferring to thank those who have helped him along the way.
“My first couple of years I felt like a transplanted organ that the body was trying to reject,” he said during his acceptance speech.
He acknowledged Grady-White president Kris Carroll, calling her a “champion” of his. “Outsiders are not automatically welcomed in this industry,” he said.
“His powerful, consistent, caring character and his unshakable passion to find the very best for all of us has made him the master consensus builder,” Carroll said.
“I can’t remember a time when Thom was disrespectful to anyone,” she added. “He never loses his cool, and he’s always quick to recover. I watch him take a breath, and then he works harder to understand the other person’s perspective.”
There were many industry executives who wanted to recognize Dammrich’s contribution to the industry, starting with Regulator Marine president Joan Maxwell, who with Carroll nominated Dammrich.
“Thom has always promoted collaboration across recreational boating and the broader marine industry,” Maxwell said. “There is no doubt that Thom’s leadership exemplifies the mission of NMMA.”
Chuck Rowe, president of Indmar Marine, is a longtime member of several NMMA boards and was something of a mentor to Dammrich.
“As I look around the room, I see boatbuilders, suppliers and competitors, and I’m certain we have one thing in common — our admiration for a man who has united every single one of us,” Rowe said. “Thom has made an outstanding contribution to the marine industry and to all of us.”
Bill Watters, president of Syntec Industries, called Dammrich “trustworthy, dedicated, honest, a great mentor.”
“There’s not one person who has taken NMMA and made it the center pin for the industry that it is,” Watters said.
Mark Schwabero, chairman and CEO of Brunswick Corp., said, “The fact that we’re all sitting here is a result of Thom’s unique foresight and practicality. During his tenure, Thom has secured the NMMA’s position as largest producer of boat shows in the world.”
After receiving the award, Dammrich thanked industry veterans, Jack Malone, Bill Barrington, Chuck Rowe and David Slikkers. Slikkers told Dammrich, among other things, “to take a courage pill on a few different occasions.”
Barrington called on the NMMA to form a Political Action Committee, and Dammrich spearheaded the effort to raise $500,000 for the 2006 political election. “We did it just before the downturn,” Dammrich said. He said the marine industry PAC has raised $350,000 for the 2018 election season.
Looking back on his 19 years, Dammrich said he had a lot to learn. He thanked Maxwell, the first woman chair of the NMMA board, calling her “courageous” and noting that she led NMMA when the group moved the Miami International Boat Show. “Joan’s counsel and her faith gave me the strength to keep fighting for the industry,” Dammrich said.
Dammrich said Syntec’s Watters was “always willing to take on any task and challenge” and that Brunswick’s Schwabero “brought keen insights to every discussion we had.”
After a standing ovation when receiving the award, Dammrich said, “I think they give me too much credit, but I’m deeply humbled and honored to receive the Hall of Fame award. The recognition that I receive today I share with all these people.”
Dammrich noted that the industry has been somewhat resistant to change. “Where we are today, we are product focused and sales focused,” he said. “The RV industry has focused on the lifestyle, and they’re growing much faster. We have to do a better job selling the lifestyle.”
He added that “we need a stronger marketing orientation in our industry. We need to focus more on a pipeline of future customers. We have to market and nurture them along, reach out to the younger generation. Millennials are the most diverse audience in history. We can’t attract them without seeing themselves in our lifestyle.”
Prior to his second standing ovation, Dammrich made this acknowledgement: “Most importantly, I want to thank my wife Carol,” he said. “For nearly 42 years, she has supported me. I couldn’t possibly have done or do what I do without your support.”