She couldn’t have known it at the time, but studying theater in college might have been the best preparation for Tameron T. Kugler to become director of the Currituck County Department of Travel & Tourism.
“You are always bringing your own experience to a role, but you are also stepping out of yourself to create another persona,” says the native of Hickory, North Carolina. “People who work with the public need that ability, that once you step on stage, you are that character.”
Not to say she is pretends to be someone she isn’t. Rather, she draws on every aspect of her background to be a more effective leader.
“It’s called listening, being able to react,” she says. “When you are in public, you need that skill, you need to listen and give back what the other person is trying to get from you.”
Kugler found ample opportunity to use her repertoire of skills when she accepted the role of Director in the summer of 2014, managing all promotion and tourism. Nine months in, she was handed responsibility for Whalehead and Historic Corolla Park. In 2017, her department started managing Historic Jarvisburg Colored School. She now directs three budgets totaling $3.4 million with a staff of 12.
“There are a lot of moving pieces,” she confessed, “and keeping track is challenging. One side is management of money; the other side is cheerleading and nurturing a creative environment for creative people.”
Again, that master of fine arts in theater comes in handy. Kugler noted that leading a staff is not that different from directing a drama production.
“That collaborative team was what I loved about theater, seeing the artistic evolution of the idea,” she says. “You all build on each other. You have to work as a team, and not someone calling all the shots. That translates to all business models.”
Speaking of business, Kugler also boasts a MBA. That background helps her serve the many masters that come with such a public position.
She uses those connections to bring together all the players, including restaurants, retail, management, extension and service industries. That’s not just PR talk. It is fundamental to her effectiveness.
“Our main goal is to get people here, but also to support the people that service them once they get here,” she explained. “Because what would all the tourists do if the lifeguards weren’t there, the trash wasn’t picked up, and the restaurants weren’t serving? You also have the police, the banks, and the construction companies. It’s all those service providers that keep everything going. We’ll take good care of you.”
It’s obvious that for Kugler – whose family includes her husband, Anthony Kugler, owner of a water distributorship, and two sons, Michael, an engineer, and Thornton, who serves in the U.S. Navy – her first love is people.
“I like being with people, talking with people, and helping people,” she says. “Someone says the most powerful thing to me: Can you connect me with someone because you know everyone. Wow, that’s pretty powerful. I do know people, I can put them together, I can be a conduit.”
If acting is Kugler’s forte, the Outer Banks is her stage – a platform she loves.
“Having grown up in Hickory and knowing the beach, I’ve always thought there was something magical about the Outer Banks,” she says. “I’ve been to so many beaches, but this one is special. The explorers, the settlements, the stories, and the tenaciousness of the people who live here... they have to be a little bit tough, because even though it’s a beautiful environment, it’s not an easy environment. But something was here to draw the Wright brothers all the way from Ohio. There is a sense of belonging. I don’t want to say it is mystical, but there is just something different.”
That mystical quality is reaffirmed on a daily basis.
“One thing I love about this job is helping visitors discover that sense of wonder, of seeing a horse on the beach, or getting that first ghost crab,” she says. “I think of the little 3-year-old boy who burst through the door of the center, planted himself, and yelled, I’m going to the beach! Just pure joy. Yeah, he’s going to the beach.”
It’s a joy she can barely contain herself.
“I get so caught up in being here,” she admitted. “Experiencing it and helping other people see it. It is a unique place, and I want people to know about it. You really become part of the fabric weave, and you can’t disentangle from it.”
Suffice to say, she loves everything about what she does.
“It’s not just a job – it’s a mission,” she says. “It’s how I am. I live it and breathe it. It’s my life. I’m going to cry! I just love it.”
And that’s not an act.