Open Julie Coker Graham's linen closet, and her background becomes obvious.

"There is a certain way in Hyatt that they fold towels," explained Coker Graham, 47, the new president and chief executive of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"And I, to this day, still fold my towels the same way," said Coker Graham, who spent 21 years in Hyatt management before coming to the bureau in 2010.

"I think it looks nice. I still line up the glasses on my sink. If I have candles, everything is side by side," she said. "Everything at Hyatt was very structured and neat and organized, and I've transferred that to my own home."

These days, Coker Graham heads an organization charged with attracting convention business to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which is now on an upswing after years of lagging sales due to poor management, arcane work rules, high labor costs, and inefficiencies.

"We are a city on the rise," Coker Graham said, listing new retail on Market Street and the pop-up gardens in the summer.

"All of those positive attributes about Philadelphia really do make us a great destination, not just for conventions and leisure and commercial business, but also to work and play and live.

"Sometimes we look at the glass as half-empty and we shouldn't," she said.

"We've got some very good things - the World Meeting of Families, the Democratic National Convention. That says a lot about what we can accomplish. We've got to believe that we can win."

In tourism, one big development involved union carpenters losing their ability to work at the Convention Center in 2014. They've been trying to get back ever since. What happens if they succeed?

It will disrupt all of the hard work that has taken place as the result. We would 100 percent go backward in our customers' eyes [with the] changes that have been made and the business that we've been able to book.

It would be a disservice to the building and to the men and women that work [there], mainly the [other] signatory unions and everything they've done to get us to this point.

Should the bureau, which markets, books, and facilitates convention, group, and international tourism, be combined with Visit Philadelphia, which markets individual leisure travel?

The first thing I would say is that it isn't a decision that either Meryl [Levitz, director of Visit Philadelphia] and I would make. Both organizations do great work.

What's your relationship with Visit Philadelphia?

Before joining this organization, I was on Visit Philadelphia's board, as the general manager at the Hyatt in Philadelphia. I was able to see the work that they did and how they operated up close. Meryl and I have had a good relationship and we still do.

You are African American and a woman. Which posed the most challenges in management?

Honestly, it was probably more sexism.

How did you deal with it?

I would say, 'How can I help you?' I wouldn't allow you to feel awkward, and I wouldn't allow that to be the dominant part of the conversation because some people wanted that. I'm not going to give you that type of satisfaction. I will be upset when I want to be upset, and I'm not offended by someone who treats me inappropriately or dismisses me because I'm a female or because I'm African American. I have to care enough about you for me to be offended.

I see your point.

Absolutely, because the thing is, you probably need me. You probably wanted to see me because either you're a vendor and you're trying to sell me something, or you're an upset guest and guess what, I hold the keys to whatever you want, whether it be a refund or [a sale]. So nine times out of 10 you're going to turn your attitude around a little bit.

I try to put people at ease in any situation, but also don't mistake my kindness for weakness, because that wouldn't be good.

More thoughts on this?

What upsets me is when you hear comments like 'You're so emotional.' You would never say that to a male. For men, you might say 'They're driven.' You should say the same about females. I'm driven for customers and employees. It's not emotional. It's passion for what I do.

Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.

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