During a period when his responsibilities now include navigating through an unprecedented time, Bryan-College Station native Chris Boleman is turning his eye toward planning for next year’s Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and what it might look like.
In March, the event, which is the largest indoor livestock exhibition in the world, was cut short because of COVID-19 safety concerns. This caused the board to reevaluate procedures, said Boleman, who has officially assumed his new role of president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Planning for next year’s 20-day event will be different than Boleman anticipated in his new leadership role.
“We are in a time of change, or maybe a better word is uncertainty,” he said. “We are … looking at all the different things that are happening in the industry and trying to put together the best plan we can. … The point that I’ve made with our team, and we make together, is that health and safety is the number one priority, period.”
Typically, planning for next year would involve focusing on improvement from the previous year, but this year, planning is about adaptation and flexibility — being open to doing things differently, Boleman said.
“We are planning for a whole show; we are optimistic,” Boleman said. “We think things are going to get better, and we hope that continues to be the plan, but at the same time, we are talking about different scenarios … so that if there is a significant change that we have to make, we are ready for it.”
Boleman is used to leading a team. Before he began serving with the rodeo in 2017, he earned a bachelor of science, master of science and a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University, where he also taught as an associate professor. He also served as the state leader for Texas 4-H, where he led the Texas 4-H Youth Development Program with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. In 2014, Boleman was awarded the Superior Service Award for leadership from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
When Boleman started working with the rodeo, he started as the executive director of the agricultural competitions and exhibits division. In 2019, he was promoted to chief mission officer, where he led the rodeo’s mission-related activities, including the livestock and horse shows, educational and commercial exhibits, donors, auctions, sponsorships, grants, scholarships and other educational programs.
Boleman doesn’t foresee himself shaking things up too much with the rodeo and livestock show. With hitting the milestone of giving away $500 million over the history of the show and with the community support of 35,000 volunteers, the event is doing well, Boleman said.
“We have a lot going right; a lot of good things happening here — the way I look at it,” he said. “You don’t fix things that aren’t broke, but you do try to get better.”
Getting better includes offering what the Houston community and state want more of as Texas continues to become more diverse, Boleman said.
“The community is three or four generations removed from the farm now, so we need to make sure we are creating space for them to want to come to our event for the entertainment pieces and want to make sure we leave with them an appreciation for the food and fiber industry,” Boleman said. “That’s what we are about — offering new and exciting things — different kinds of acts.”
Exhibits are becoming more diverse, agricultural shows are changing and additions have been made, including the school art Program, ag robotics and food challenge competitions.
“We are trying to diversify our portfolio with what matches what the world is interested in and what the community wants to be a part of— subtle changes to make sure our 20-day experience is the best it can be,” he said.
Although Houston is Boleman’s main residence, Bryan-College Station is his “home,” he said. His parents live in town and he still has a place in the area. His wife, Randi Boleman, works for the Bryan Independent School District as an assistant director of nutrition services.
“We love the community; we are Aggies at heart,” Boleman said. “Growing up in Bryan-College Station, in the Brazos Valley, has helped me to have the strong feelings I have about education, about agriculture, about community.”