• Meet Julie Coker Graham, Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau

     
    FROM THE Summer 2016 ISSUE
     

    Julie Coker Graham learned early about the importance of customer service.

Julie Coker Graham’s interest in the hospitality industry bloomed in 1984 when she started working at Mr. Steak—a chain restaurant—as a waitress during her senior year in high school.

“I could not have been more excited that I came home every night with tips just for being nice to people,” she says.

At that moment, Coker Graham learned the importance of customer service, and that first experience propelled her forward 32 years to her new role as president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, a position she assumed on Jan. 1 of this year. She is the only AfricanAmerican female CVB president and CEO in the top 50 U.S. markets.

“It is an honor and a privilege to market and sell this great city,” she says. “The PHLCVB makes a difference in the lives of Philadelphians every day by bringing international visitors and meetings and conventions to our city.”

The Wilmington, Delaware, native came to the CVB almost six years ago as the senior vice president of convention sales, and she steps into her current role during an exciting time for Philadelphia—the city has been named to a number of must-visit lists, including landing No. 1 on Lonely Planet, and breaking records for hotel occupancy and future convention bookings. The Pope visited in September, and, perhaps most importantly, the city is hosting the 2016 Democratic National Convention July 25-28.

“It is an exciting time [right now] that provides unprecedented media exposure for our city and the residual effects of these successes will be felt for a long time,” she says. “We have been and will continue to capitalize on the buzz surrounding Philadelphia in our marketing efforts and will be touting these accolades to our audiences well into the future.”

And that will all happen with the help from her team, which shares her love of the city—a city she loves because of its diversity.

“The people that I have the honor of working with every day are some of the most passionate people that you’ll find in the city,” she says. “There is so much to love about Philadelphia.”

And, with the efforts of the PHLCVB, helmed by Coker Graham, that love will only grow. 

Nickole Kerner Bobley describes her childhood in The Woodlands as charmed. Summer days were spent exploring the community just north of Houston. One of her favorite activities was watching the installation of The Woodlands’ iconic public art. She and her friends would sit in awe, perched on their bikes, as the giant cranes carefully positioned the sculptures in place. It had a lasting impact on her. “I attribute my adult love of art to where I lived,” she notes.

 

Tony Michaels is no stranger to navigating choppy waters. The CEO and executive director of The Parade Company, which puts on traditions like America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Ford Fireworks, took the helm of the Detroit nonprofit during tough times, at the height of the financial crisis. “2008, 2009, are you kidding me?” says Michaels.

 

Originally from Ontario, Heather Odendaal got her start in event planning early, serving as her high school’s head of social events. She ended up on the West Coast, courtesy of her studies at the University of British Columbia, and launched her career in Whistler, working for the resort in marketing and events. Today, she’s CEO of Bluebird Strategy, a boutique event planning firm, and CEO and founder of WNORTH, a global community of women who have their sights set on the C-suite.