I Love My Job: Julie Coker Graham
It’s been almost one year since Julie Coker Graham took office as president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. Her hospitality know-how is bringing more conventions, trade shows, mega sporting events and overseas visitors to Philadelphia. She’s got events booked for as far as 2029! Coker Graham is the first woman to lead PHLCVB and the only African American woman leading a destination marketing organization in a top U.S. market. The hospitality maven shares what that means. She also lets us in on a tough career moment and the pair of shoes she’s loving right now.
I grew up in … Wilmington, Delaware. We like to say “a little bit south of Philadelphia.”
I got started in hospitality when … I was going into my senior year of high school. I got my first job as a waitress at a restaurant in Wilmington called Mr. Steak.
My 21 years at Hyatt taught me that … I have the ability to help turn any negative situation around. And working at seven different Hyatt hotels between Ohio and Chicago, and ultimately in Philly, taught me that I’m only as good as my team.
I’m nostalgic about … my grandma who passed away in 2012. She was my biggest fan.
The 2017 NFL draft in Philly will … be a success and events on Ben Franklin Parkway will be free and open to the public.
A trying time in my career was … 9/11. I was a hotel manager in Chicago at the time and we were blocks away from what was then called the Sears Tower. People were concerned that it was going to be a target, and a number of my visitors were from NYC. They were desperately trying to get in touch with their loved ones.
The song I have on repeat right now is … Lake by the Ocean. I love Maxwell! I just saw him and Mary J. Blige at the Wells Fargo Center last month.
I have a new obsession with cars because … as a general manager with Hyatt hotels, a benefit was getting a company car. Sounds great, and it was, but I had to drive a Grand Marquis for ten years. I’m 5’4”! Now I’m a Porsche fan. I drive the Cayenne, and I really love it. I tend to be a fast driver.
Being the first woman to lead the PHLCVB and the first Black woman to lead a destination marketing organization in a top U.S. market means … I have to be a role model. I have a responsibility to help others achieve what I’ve been fortunate and blessed enough to receive.
A crisis I faced as a hotel manager was … when a bride decided to hang her wedding dress from the sprinkler in her hotel room. The hanger set off the sprinkler and her dress was soaking wet and dirty. The wedding was in a few hours. We took the dress to the local cleaners for her and they were able to clean it. She was fabulous afterward so that was a great ending.
Something most people don’t know about hosting the DNC is … when the DNC dates were announced, we had to move the American Association for Clinical Chemistry conference that was already in place for those dates. As soon as the DNC was over, we quickly turned over the Pennsylvania Convention Center to make sure the AACC conference was ready to go the next day.
Diversity is such a big part of PHLCVB’s mission because … it’s such a fundamental part of our culture here in Philadelphia.
The piece of career advice I always give is … love what you do.
People always email me to ask … how they can help. I’m grateful to those who help us sell the city.
Meeting planners are most drawn to Philly for … our location, which generates record-breaking attendance for meetings.
I’ve always been good at … consensus building.
In Philly we need do a better job of touting … our innovation and tech scene. We have some of the best and brightest minds in the tech and innovation space, so we need to take credit for all of the great work being done here.
My favorite pair of shoes is … a pair of pink Manolo Blahniks I own. I love my shoes! I have awesome shoes!
If I’m in Wawa I’m getting … a Coca Cola and a bag of Herr’s kettle chips.
The social issue I devote the most time to is … education. I’m a product of the public school system.
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