After just two months on the job, DCI's Dan Potter sat down with new DCI CEO Nate Boudreaux during the DCI Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. The following transcript of their introductory conversation is lightly edited for length and clarity.

Dan Potter: It's been kind of a slow transition. You've been with Dan Acheson for several months. I imagine that your head is just swimming with faces and names and ideas. How are you coping with all of it?

Nate Boudreaux: Yeah, that's the hardest part, is just identifying who's who, and who does what, and who's with what corps. The staff’s been great. It's been two months and Dan has been awesome in the transition. I've been in other places where you just kind of show up, and you’ve got to figure it out. This way I at least have a guide to help sift through some of the things and give me some history behind certain things as well. He's also said, "You tell me how much or how little you want me around and how much help you want." So, he's also given me the autonomy to do things without him sort of holding my hand throughout the whole time. Two months on the job, and I'm still really trying to immerse myself in the activity and take it all in.

Potter: It has been noted extensively that you come to Drum Corps International from outside DCI, and from outside the marching arts entirely. What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of coming into this as a CEO from another activity entirely?

Boudreaux: I think the advantages are pretty obvious; you bring an outside perspective. It's the old cliche, "Sometimes you can't see the forest through the trees." Sometimes you don't see things that may be plain as day to an outsider. I think I bring an outside perspective, a new perspective. I'm not necessarily trying to change things that have been successful in the past, but just bringing a new, entrepreneurial, innovative attitude toward the activity. And then also, keeping the traditions that we have and building on the successes of the past, but also looking to see what the activity is going to be in three years, five years, 10 years.

It's going to have to evolve, just from an economic standpoint, from a sustainability standpoint. The drum corps experience that you see today is going to be different in three, five, 10 years. Now, what those differences are, I'm not sure. And it's not going to be a Nate Boudreaux decision to make those changes. It's going to be a collaborative effort amongst the corps and the board to push the activity forward. I'm excited about that. I think I bring a unique perspective. Many of the experiences I've had in the past — my most recent job as the CEO at USA Water Ski and Wake Sports, which is the national governing body for the sport of water skiing and wakeboarding. I'm not a wakeboarder or water skier. So, I had no experience with that at the start either.

Potter: How long did it take you to get acclimated in that job as CEO of USA Water Ski? And do you find yourself leaning on things you learned taking over that job now?

Boudreaux: It's really just asking a lot of questions, being authentic, and not trying to be fake. I don't know what I don't know. I probably couldn't go through the drum corps performance and pick out this and that, and I may misspeak here and there and call a thing something that it's not, which will happen, I guarantee you that. But it's just a matter of time. As with anything, the more you watch it, the more you talk to people, the more you figure it out. I’m confident I'll be able to pick it up fairly quickly. But at the same time, I need to be able to understand the activity, but I don't need to be able to do the activity. I'm not necessarily here to march in a corps, I'm not here to choreograph a show or judge your performance. I'm here to run the business of the organization. Those are the skill sets I think I bring, but at the same time, I want to be able to talk the talk and be able to have conversations about the shows and about the participants and about the activity.

Potter: Prior to your time with USA Water Ski and Wake Sports, your focus was primarily sports marketing, right?

Boudreaux: It was. And, for me, I really think it was important, as I sort of climbed the corporate ladder, from my very first job as a media relations person in the athletic department at a college, to working with the Cleveland Browns, to working with USA football. I did various things in those roles. I’ve done marketing. I've done events. I've done sponsorships. I've done all these different things within the organizations. When I had the opportunity at USA Water Ski and Wake Sports to become the CEO, although it was a small organization, I understood how all the elements of the organization worked and how they all fit together. And I’ve taken those experiences with me here. DCI is a larger organization, more staff, bigger volume in terms of budgeting and whatnot, but it's still the same X's and O's of running the business, it's just on a larger scale. There may be an extra zero or two on the PnL, but it's still, again, the same X's and O's as I've done in those other spots.

Potter: You marketed triple-A baseball — the New Orleans Zephyrs — the Carolina Cobras, an arena football team. Both of those — minor league baseball and arena football — they're often associated with fun, wacky promotions that work really well for them and drive ticket sales. Obviously, it's not a model that works for everybody. But I'm wondering how that might inform your decisions going forward. Do you have new ideas for marketing drum corps?

Boudreaux: That's actually a great analogy that I didn’t really think of. It's a niche activity, just like arena football is a niche sport. It's not the NFL. Same thing with triple-A baseball, it's not the major leagues. You have to do things in order to sort of stand out within the marketplace, not only to attract fans, but also to attract media attention. To get the spotlight on you, you have to do those things. I don't think necessarily that drum corps needs to do that. We don't need to become the Savannah Bananas of the marching arts, where it's just these quirky things that you do, but there could be opportunities to do similar things like fan giveaways and whatnot at particular events in order to draw interest. I don't anticipate us turning into the triple-A baseball model.

Potter: Someone will obviously point out to you, we've had our own “bananas” in the past, they were called the Bridgemen. But that's a whole other story, we'll get into it sometime. You also referee football and basketball games, right?

Boudreaux: I do, small college basketball and high school football. I think those experiences translate really well to life and to running a business, because I'm dealing with different personalities, whether it be staff, or sponsors, or participants, or corps members. And you’ve got to be able to handle those different personalities, just like you would handle an irate coach who's yelling at me because he wanted me to call traveling. I've got to walk him down, walk him off the cliff, let him know, "It's going to be okay." There's a saying in the officiating world, you‘ve got to take this chaos, create calm, and then provide hope for the team. That's really all they want. You’ve got to take this crazy game, where everyone's going crazy, slow it down, create calm, and then just let each coach and team know they have hope to win the game. I use that a lot in the business world as well, because sometimes there's going to be chaos. And again, you're dealing with personalities, and there's going to be conflict. It's taking those different personalities, creating that calm, and again, providing that hope.

Potter: How have you been immersing yourself in drum corps?

Boudreaux: I've watched some different shows online. I had a really good conversation last night with a corps director trying to understand how they get the show developed. I was curious as to how you come up with the idea. And then once you get the idea, what's the next step after that? And then the next step after that. It's really just a lot of questions. I met with all the DCI office staff one-on-one and had conversations with them, not only learning about them as people, but then also their roles within the activity. And I'm having these one-on-one conversations with the corps directors to learn more about their pain points as well. How do they think we can improve the activity? It's asking a lot of questions to all the different constituents — staff, corps directors, participants. I'm really eager to talk to the drum majors this weekend as well, to get their perspective. Sponsors too. It's touching base with every stakeholder within the marching arts activity. I want to pick their brain and really figure out their function, and not only what they enjoy about the activity, but how we can make it better.

Potter: Okay, let's go back to the passion that fans have for this activity. Sometimes that passion can be pretty strident and resistant to change. For fans of USA Water Ski and Wake Sports, when you would make a change to the rules or to the way a competition is laid out, whatever it might be, did you have that same kind of strident resistance?

Boudreaux: It wasn't me making a change. And in this case, it wouldn't be me making a change either. It's the membership making a change, to move the activity forward. Same thing in water skiing. I didn’t get involved in the rules. We've got experts and committee members and folks that are rules people who do that. I don't think it's my job to get into the weeds, and I don't plan on it. I mean, if they need me to referee something I can mediate some of that stuff, but I'm going to let those experts handle that. In terms of evolution and change, the things I'm talking about are maybe a tweak to the tour model and how those things are happening, simply because the economics may not work the way they are now. Those are the types of changes, when I say change, that I would be looking to implement — not necessarily things that would affect the tradition of the activity.

I think about it like Major League Baseball, for instance. It's a very traditional sport. It's probably, of the four major sports, the one most rooted in tradition. They instituted a pitch clock, and they instituted things for extra innings, where they put a man on second base to start the extra innings, which is kind of unheard of. If you ask a traditionalist, you go back 20 years, people would freak out. So, it's just the evolution of the game to make it more exciting, to enhance the fan experience. Those are the types of things we're going to have to evolve to, not necessarily blowing up the front ensemble or doing different things like that. I think it's just those minor tweaks to help us enhance the fan experience and help the participant experience, but it's going to be minor changes. I wouldn't anticipate major changes, and if there are, they're going to be coming from the membership themselves, and from the corps, not from the DCI headquarters, and definitely not from me.

Potter: Nate, you're 60 days into the job, but you've had several months of exposure to this activity. I imagine that there's a little bit of a vision for the future that's beginning to form in your head. Can you share any of it with us?

Boudreaux: The vision is basically rooted in four pillars. The first one is to get more folks involved in the marching arts, and that can be done in a number of different ways. The second one is to get more eyeballs on the marching arts. We do an excellent job communicating and marketing to folks, and we can reach more people. Getting more eyes on the marching arts is important. The third one is to continue the financial strength of the organization and to find other forms of incremental revenue, whether it be through donations or sponsorships, because that's going to be critical to moving the organization forward. And the fourth one, and probably the most important one, is to provide a positive experience to not only our corps, but also to the participants. Because at the end of the day, we need to ensure that our participants are having a positive experience in the activity.

Potter: When you tell friends and family about this job, what's their reaction? And do you have to spend a lot of time explaining?

Boudreaux: Sometimes. When I let people know that I was taking this opportunity, I was surprised that I did get a number of messages back and text messages saying either "I was in drum corps" or that they knew someone who was in the activity. There are a lot more people who actually know about it in my network than I thought.

Potter: How did you hear about drum corps, and what attracted you to it?

Boudreaux: I live in downtown Indianapolis so I usually see all the comings and goings of what's happening in the city. If you go out and about anytime downtown, there's a Pacers game or a Colts game or something like that. I recall the second week of August, all the time, I'd go out downtown and the city would be taken over by all these groups of band people. The first time I experienced it, I lived down by the Canal, which is close to Military Park, where a lot of the corps would warm up. I’d hear them and would go check it out.

Potter: I know asking this probably isn't fair at this point, but I bet you can answer it. "The thing I love most about drum corps is…"

Boudreaux: The passion. The passion that the corps have, that the participants have. And again, having only seen it for 60 days, you can feel it. It's authentic. I think that's what drew me to the opportunity as well. I saw that same passion or similar passion in water skiing. They're very uber-into their sport, just like any sort of niche sport or activity, but you can feel it. Talking to the board members, even in the interview process. Everyone is uber-passionate about the activity. Even in my meetings with the staff, everyone just loves this activity so much, and you can feel it. It's not fake. So, I would say the passion is the one thing that I like most about it.

Potter: Again, welcome to DCI. We look forward to seeing what the Nate Boudreaux years bring.

Boudreaux: Looking forward to it. If anybody sees me out at a show, feel free to come up, introduce yourself.