For the past seven years, Joel Cowley, the president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, has overseen Texas-sized growth of the beloved event and an unprecedented cancellation this year due to COVID-19 concerns.
Now, the rodeo has announced that Cowley, a 15-year rodeo veteran, is stepping down from his post. The next man to cowboy up is the rodeo’s current chief of mission officer, Chris Boleman, Ph.D., who will assume the role of president and CEO.
Cowley’s last day in his role of president and CEO is May 22.
“I am incredibly thankful to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Executive Committee for the opportunity to serve this organization for the past 15 years, seven as president and CEO,” said Cowley, in a statement. “Our volunteers and staff have reached incredible milestones over this period and, with the continued support of the community, I am confident that the best is yet to come.”
As CultureMap has reported, despite the cancellation this year, the rodeo has seen record attendance of late and a record commitment to education. The 23-day event typically draws more than 2.5 million people a year. Cowley’s tenure saw Garth Brooks play to massive crowds and King of Country, George Strait, shatter his own NRG Stadium record when he closed out RodeoHouston in 2019.
So just why is Cowley getting off the horse? He points to a new opportunity.
“While I will remain a lifelong supporter of the Rodeo and its mission of promoting agriculture and supporting education, I will be pursuing an opportunity that has a direct impact on the agricultural industry,” Cowley added in the statement. “In doing so, I hope to provide the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo with an even better story to tell about advancements in the critically important field of agriculture.”
Jim Winne, the rodeo’s chairman of the board, offered thanks to Cowley for his work, stating: “Our organization has set attendance records and increased our commitment to education and our community under Joel’s leadership during these past seven years. We are eternally grateful for the commitment and passion that Joel and his family have made to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.”
Considered a rising star in the rodeo industry, Boleman has served in the role of chief mission officer since August 2019, and also previously as executive director of the Agricultural Educational Competitions and Exhibits Division.
He was also instrumental in the rodeo’s reorganization structuring. Prior to joining the rodeo, Boleman served as the state leader for the Texas 4-H Organization and as a professor at his alma mater, Texas A&M University.
Boleman will assume the role of president and CEO Monday, May 25, leading a full-time staff of 130 and a volunteer force of more than 35,000.
Cowley, for his part, lauds the promotion of a fellow Aggie. “When hiring Chris three years ago, it was done with potential succession in mind,” said Cowley. “I can think of no one better to lead this great organization into the future.”