When Nikki Lekhy talks about Memphis, she speaks with the pride and knowledge usually heard in the voices of older residents who have been around for years and witnessed decades of changes.
But the newly promoted sales manager for the Memphis Cook Convention Center is only 25, just kicking off her career and looking at the city through fresh young eyes – a perspective many community leaders believe is crucial to the city’s future growth.
In fact, from a professional standpoint, Memphis’ young, entrepreneurial spirit and “can do” attitude are some of the city’s top selling points, said Lekhy, whose primary responsibilities include securing space for a variety of groups at the convention center and working with other local businesses – such as Marriott Hotels – to optimize their experiences there.
“Speaking as a younger person who has recently returned to Memphis, it’s evident that there isn’t one group of executives making decisions about our city,” she said. “We have some very dedicated grassroots groups and nonprofits who are making a big difference. Although we still have room to grow, Memphis has done a great job of empowering the community to believe they can make an impact – you feel like you can make your voice heard here because it’s not a huge city.”
A Memphis native and 2006 graduate of Houston High School, Lekhy attended the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where she received her Bachelor of Science in Communications Studies in 2010. Unsure of what her exact career path would be, she returned to Memphis after graduation because she wanted to get her feet on the ground in a familiar place surrounded by family and friends, she said.
A brief internship with Leadership Memphis, where she met Memphis Cook Convention Center General Manager Pierre Landaiche, led to her first job as sales and marketing coordinator there in 2010. She was promoted to sales manager last month, primarily because of her hard work, dedication and firm grasp of the hospitality and tourism industry.
“Nikki has proven to be a tremendous asset to the sales team and the convention center as a whole,” said Nicole Seltzer, director of convention services.
Lekhy says she never expected to become so immersed in the world of hospitality and tourism, but it’s an excellent tie-in to her passion for community and economic development.
“Everyone here from the top down really believes in this city. They have such strong support for Memphis and its growth.”
Sales manager, Memphis Cook Convention Center
“I meet new people from all kinds of different groups every day, and I’m inspired by my coworkers and the enthusiasm they have for Memphis. Everyone here from the top down really believes in this city. They have such strong support for Memphis and its growth. We’re always striving to attract more regional and national groups because we believe we have something no other city can offer.”
In the realm of tourism and particularly group sales, Lekhy says Memphis does face some challenges, such as the cost to travel here and competition from larger neighboring cities, but she believes the city’s advantages far outweigh them.
“We’re rich in history, particularly music history – the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, for example, is one of many great advocates for the sound of Memphis.”
Memphis also has a strong spiritual vibe that resonates with church groups and religious organizations.
“They like the spirit of Memphis. We are very faith-based here and those values are evident in our hospitality and how we treat our visitors. It’s a huge draw for us in the group tourism market,” Lekhy said.
In her free time, Lekhy tries to stay involved as much as she can with Leadership Memphis, and she also recently completed a session with the YWCA Common Ground program, which helped expand her understanding of different communities in Memphis. In terms of advice for other recent college graduates, she can’t emphasize enough the importance of networking and community involvement.
“Definitely keep an open mind, not just about the jobs you pursue, but about the connections you have,” she said. “Even if you think you don’t, you do have a network. Your pastor, friends, even people your parents know – don’t be afraid to reach out to those people. Sometimes the people you least expect can turn out to be your biggest advocates.”
As for her other secrets to success, she credits her mother as her biggest influence.
“She’s probably the most determined person I know,” Lekhy said. “She put herself through a master’s program while raising a family and she’s worked hard to give me the opportunities she didn’t have. I’ve gotten a great deal of my work ethic from her. She’s instilled in me the belief that I can do anything – that there’s no challenge too difficult that can stand in my way if I work hard and believe in my own potential.”