Joel Cowley departing as RodeoHouston president/CEO

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- After seven years at the helm of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, President and CEO Joel Cowley is leaving.

Dr. Chris Boleman, who has served as the rodeo's chief mission officer, has been promoted to take over the top role.

"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. "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."

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In the wake of the abrupt end of the 2020 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the event's president, Joel Cowley, explains how he and other leaders came to the decision.

Cowley didn't expand on his exact plans for life after the rodeo, but said he'll still be working in a capacity that will impact it.

"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," said Cowley in Tuesday's announcement. "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."

Cowley was promoted to president in 2013 after serving as the Executive Director of Agricultural Exhibits and Competitions. He took over for Leroy Shafer, who served as interim president and CEO at the time.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Cowley new CEO of Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

During his tenure, Cowley oversaw the 23-day event, which now draws more than 2.5 million people annually.

Of course, this year has been an exception.

The event, which is also one of the largest livestock exhibitions and rodeos in the world, was forced to close 11 days ahead of its March 22 finale due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

RELATED: RodeoHouston closes, cancels several concerts amid coronavirus concerns

Despite the closure, rodeo officials said scholarship commitments would still be fulfilled.

"We are in a position to fulfill our annual contribution to youth and education," Cowley said back in March. He also explained while looking ahead to the 2021 event, that the show's "long-term viability" would not be impacted.

It was the first shutdown of the rodeo since it was canceled entirely in 1937, Cowley confirmed.

Still, during Cowley's time, the rodeo saw several successes, including growing to more than 35,000 volunteers and drawing star-studded performances from entertainers such as Garth Brooks, Los Tigres del Norte, and Cardi B, who set an all-time attendance record in 2019.

Another concert highlight was thanks to the "King of Country" George Strait, who broke his own NRG Stadium record when he closed out RodeoHouston in 2019.

Meanwhile, Boleman, who has been tapped as Cowley's successor, moves up to the top spot after serving as chief mission officer since August. Prior to that in 2017, Boleman was the executive director of the Agricultural Educational Competitions and Exhibits Division. He has also taken a lead role in the restructuring of the rodeo.

Cowley's last day as president will be May 22. Boleman will officially take over three days later on May 25.

"I am very grateful to Joel Cowley, who not only has been a tremendous leader of our organization but is also a trusted friend and mentor. I look forward to the challenge of following his legacy," Boleman said.

Cowley, who holds a master's degree in Animal Science from Texas A&M University, has also been an active member of several boards, including the Texas 4-H Foundation, the Texas FFA Foundation, the University of Houston Bauer College of Business, and the Super Bowl LI Community Council.

Both men have known each other for years, dating back to their time at Texas A&M.

"I can think of no one better to lead this great organization into the future," Cowley said of Boleman.

Cowley joined the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 2005.
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