Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau
Executive Vice President
Hometown: Wilmington, Delaware
College: Johnson & Wales University, Providence, Rhode Island
There’s a responsibility you have to take the lead down the path others want to follow. I don’t take that responsibility lightly.
The next 16 months are going to be the most exhilarating and challenging times of Julie Coker Graham’s career. The municipality she represents will step further into the global spotlight when Pope Francis makes his first U.S. appearance in September and the Democratic National Convention meets to select its presidential candidate in July 2016.
Welcome to Philadelphia, where Coker Graham will become the highest-ranking woman of a leading U.S. convention and visitors bureau next January. Currently serving as executive vice president, she will replace Jack Ferguson as president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau in 2016.
There’s nothing like getting tested right out of the gate. Philadelphia, already the 13th most-visited U.S. city, is expecting as many as 2 million people to come to town to see Pope Francis Sept. 26−27. The papal visit will conclude the World Meeting of Families Congress Sept. 22−25, drawing more than 10,000 attendees from 150 nations. The projected economic impact of the two events is $417 million.
“We’re going to host the world,” Coker Graham says. “We’re very focused on bringing international visitors to our city. This is very exciting for us. It will be huge for visibility. It’s the type of value you could never buy.”
Among the first mega-events Coker Graham will preside over as Philadelphia CVB president will be the Democratic National Convention July 25−28, 2016. Expected to bring in about 50,000 people, the DNC will likely generate more than $200 million. “It’s not just great for Philadelphia, but it’s great for the region,” Coker Graham says.
Paramount to her drive and confidence are her comprehensive experiences as a general manager with Hyatt Hotels. Starting as a corporate management trainee in 1989 at Hyatt Regency Columbus, Coker Graham has deftly handled executive positions at such places as Hyatt Regency Cincinnati and Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing. In 1998, she helped open Hyatt Regency McCormick Place as lead of the rooms division.
“It was a great foundation to put me where I am today,” Coker Graham says. “I was one of those people out of college who, if they asked you to move, I moved. If they asked you to work holidays, I worked holidays. I put in the time.”
While she will certainly be breaking the CVB glass ceiling with her upcoming promotion, she has been bucking gender and minority trends for years through her affiliation and promotions with Hyatt. Coker Graham says she never experienced a glass ceiling with Hyatt, developing the exact kind of credentials that make her well suited to assume the leadership role as CEO and president of the Philadelphia CVB, regardless of her gender or minority status.
“I am one of the fortunate ones,” Coker Graham says. “Hyatt continues to work on opportunities to find female general managers.”
Coker Graham’s career got started on the right foot when she attended Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science from the school’s highly regarded hospitality management program. Johnson & Wales’ equally famous culinary arts program has helped launch the careers of celebrity chefs such as Emeril Lagasse and Tyler Florence.
Just as Hyatt embraced Coker Graham and her innate leadership skills, the Philadelphia CVB has welcomed her with open arms. She made the jump from hotel management to the CVB in 2010, serving as senior vice president of its convention division. She was a key player on the 2016 Democratic National Convention bid team and also serves on the Philadelphia Hospitality and Tourism Task Force. Her promotion to executive vice president and the announcement that she would replace Ferguson came last June.
“Julie is a well-respected leader and collaborator in the community, and our leadership and members are extremely supportive of this decision,” says Greg Stafford, president of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association. “She has clearly proven that she always has our customers’ and Philadelphia’s best interests in mind.”
To prepare for her new job, Graham is spending more time in the CVB’s tourism and marketing department, as well as networking with stakeholders, especially board members.
“You can’t find a better industry for networking and support than the hospitality industry,” Coker Graham says. “I’m pretty confident I’m prepared to step into this role. It’s my time.”