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Meet Nicole Markley: A Q&A with our President

Nicole Markley recently received the well-deserved promotion to President and General Manager of Exhibit Partners. Working as a team, Nicole and the senior leadership team have not only weathered the storm of the past year, but feel confident that the changes they have made and the strength of their team mean they are looking at a more positive future.

Nicole joined Exhibit Partners in 2016 after relocating to Minnesota with her family. While Minnesota feels like home now, she has taken time to explore the country’s beaches, mountains and wilderness, living in Kentucky, Illinois, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, California and North Carolina.

Nicole also has a variety of work experience that has brought her to the place she is with the EP family. From hospitality to retail and healthcare, she draws daily on her management experience and business operations background.

Learn a little more about Nicole in our Q&A and then drop her a hello!

What was your first job?

I was always anxious to earn my own money, and while I started babysitting and other “paid” jobs in the neighborhood when I was 11, my first real job began as soon as I turned 15 and was legally able to work in Kentucky. I was a table busser and barback in a Mexican restaurant. It was physically demanding and long, late hours, with a lot of older people, so I grew up quickly.

If we reached out to your high school peers, what do you think they would say about a young Nicole?

I was someone who knew everyone, but was not in any particular friend group in school, preferring to work in lieu of attending football games. I participated in school activities, but I didn’t socialize with a lot of my peers, so I think they would say I was driven, even at an early age, and not especially interested in many of the things typical teenagers were.

Is there a relationship that stands out in your mind as being a key turning point in your career?

My first major career was in retail management. I was in my 20’s and had been working as an Assistant Manager for less than a year, when another company recruited me for a new job. When I told my then boss, Caroline, about it, she asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted to run my own store and she said if I thought I was ready then it was a done deal. From there, she focused on my career with me and I went from being an Assistant Manager to Store Manager, to Area Manager, all in three years. It took hard work and a big commitment (I relocated several times, following her to two different states), but most importantly, it took a shared trust on both of our parts. I trusted if I worked hard, listened and learned from her that she would take me where I wanted to go and she trusted if she invested her time and energy in me, (as young and inexperienced as I was), I would achieve what I set out to.

What has been your biggest challenge since starting at EP?

There have been several, but managing through the pandemic is clearly the biggest. Obviously, it has been financially challenging, but it has been much more than that. It has been a strategic juggle to navigate the legislation that impacts a small business. Available funding assistance, state executive orders, federal legislation, travel and safety guidelines, changes in state unemployment and other state legislation are just some of the things I’ve had to review on an ongoing basis, sometimes daily, as the operations manager of a small business in 2020-2021.

What have you learned from the pandemic and the turmoil of 2020?

I think we have learned as a company, how to be more nimble. I give our team an enormous amount of credit for adapting as quickly as they did and evolving as a creative engagement agency to provide existing and new clientele solutions that work for the current environment. We were also able to expand our existing service offerings into the retail sector and build a very competitive digital component, offering video production, webinars, microsites and more. I couldn’t be more proud of our team’s adaptability in the last year.

Working from home affected the way EP functioned and of course affected you personally as a working mother as well. What are your thoughts?

Remote work clearly creates a more difficult culture for a company, and we are not unlike many other companies struggling with this right now. One of the most difficult challenges I think families have faced during the pandemic is the one that distance learning has created. I have struggled personally with this and I have one of the easier situations with just one middle-school-aged son, who I am so grateful has been self-reliant and resilient throughout this experience. I have so much empathy for the families with younger children who have needed their parents to also be teachers. Every family was impacted, whether a parent had to sacrifice income, time or in the worst case scenario, simply could not be available for their children in the way they were needed.

Where do you see the industry heading in 2021 and beyond?

Research indicates people in our industry are anxious to get back to live and in-person events (trade shows included), and that networking will be their primary objective when they do. There are many companies still not allowing travel in 2021, and also state legislation preventing large events from happening. Large events are not expected to start back up in most states until at least fall; however 2022 looks to be a promising year. Trade shows will likely be a blend of reduced in-person attendance and many companies adding a virtual element moving forward.

Exhibit Partners is not only in the trade show/large events industry, and we now have clients engaging in retail and corporate environmental branding projects, digital marketing and portable online inventory programs. Event management, including design and fabrication will always be a large part of what we do, but EP is active in many other elements of brand engagement now.

What do you want people to know about the EP team?

Exhibit Partners is made up of an intelligent, adaptable, dedicated group of people who are committed to our partners’ success and we believe in building long term relationships with all of our partners. It took each of our fantastic team members and partners to get through the tough year we had!

If you’ve worked with Nicole, know her personally or just want to say hi, please drop her a note below!


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