Why did you choose a career in hospitality?
My first job in high school was waitressing at Mr. Steak in Wilmington, Delaware. Back then you were called a waitress, and, of course, now we say servers. I enjoyed the idea of taking care of people. I’ve always had this A-type personality so I was always focused on taking orders correctly, ensuring hot food was served hot and cold food cold, but I also enjoyed helping people make memories whether they came in for a special birthday, graduation, vacation, a night away from the kids, etc. I knew the customer service I delivered made a difference. From that job, I pursued a college degree in hospitality management and never looked back. The art of serving has never been lost on me, and I understand how important the role we play in helping visitors/customers make memories.
Do you have a motto or saying that informs how you approach your work?
I never ask anything of anyone that I’m not willing to do myself. I believe in surrounding myself with smart, talented people and there is room for everyone. Failure is not an option. As any good salesperson knows— a no answer is simply a delayed yes.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
I would have to say my biggest accomplishment has not happened; I have so much more I need to accomplish. To date, I would say I’m most proud of making a meaningful contribution to the companies and organizations I’ve had the privilege of working for. My goal is to always make a difference with the team I lead and in the communities I work. I’m hoping to make a difference in the San Diego community.
What is the most important lesson you have learned throughout your career?
First, listen to hear and not to respond. Too often we listen so we can quickly respond as oppose to really hearing someone. To hear someone means to respect their thoughts, opinions and even feedback. In my mind, this makes you a better collaborator. Second, often in leadership roles you receive many opinions and a lot of feedback at some point you have trust your gut—that little still voice inside you that helped shape who you are. Keep listening to that voice because it hasn’t failed you yet. Lastly, never let others define who you are or what you stand for. It’s your story and you are more than capable of telling it.
What feeds your soul?
Family, friends, team, purpose, winning, passion and people who give a damn.
What keeps you up at night?
In our role as the San Diego Tourism Authority, we are responsible for creating economic impact for the region through job creation, tax generation and increased visitation. It is never lost on me there are 200,000 jobs that depend on the work we do. We put people to work—dishwashers, housekeepers, bellmen, Uber drivers. We help hospitality and tourism workers earn a livable wage so they can support their families, put kids through college and that responsibility often keeps me up a night. We must get it right because the community is counting on us.
What is the one quintessential San Diego experience you are most looking forward to?
Any city I visit or live in I am always fascinated by what is the heartbeat of that city and most often it’s the people. So, I am looking forward to meeting local shop owners, visit the various restaurants and bars, tour the cultural attractions and neighborhoods and just be immersed in the San Diego way of life. Plus, I do plan to take up golf—wish me luck.
What is the one thing you’ll miss most about Philadelphia?
That’s easy—the people. I love their hustle, their grit and their competitiveness.
What makes you hopeful about the future of tourism in San Diego?
The freedom to travel and explore new cultures is alive and well. It may be stalled right now, but it’s there inside of all of us. Travel experiences make us better human beings. Our doors are reopening, and soon we’ll roll out our welcome mat and invite visitors back to our great destination. As we did before, we’ll have something for everyone—our neighborhoods, our beaches, our arts and culture community, our attractions, and our great restaurants, but most importantly our welcoming spirit will draw visitors back to San Diego.
Kim Paszek says
We will miss you in Philadelphia! You were a huge part of Philadelphia’s growth and success in the meeting industry and bringing Philly higher on the success rate as a meeting and convention destination. Wishing you success in San Diego. Philly is going to miss you!!
Victoria Murphy says
Congratulations! I’m a Philadelphian myself; but my soul resides in San Diego. Two incredible cities… you’re fortunate to experience both! Your description of Philly’s people is damn accurate! (You’ll miss the food, too!). I’d love to meet you for coffee or lunch the next time I visit! Peace…Tori
Charleene Poissot says
Welcome to our wonderful city, Ms. Coker! I hope to have the privilege to meet you in person soon. I love your support of BLM and your commitment to making sure SDTA is actively involved in making positive changes to better serve our black community. I’m excited for you to get to explore San Diego as more and more places reopen, so that you can see what truly makes San Diego “America’s Finest City”.