Rising Stars: Nikki Ellis, Cal Chamber of Commerce

Nikki Ellis, photo by Scott Duncan Photography

From her early interest in Latin America to her work on a recent trade mission to Japan, Nikki Ellis has long had a global outlook on life.

As international affairs and media relations specialist for the California Chamber of Commerce, she loves that her work regularly brings her in contact with leaders from around the world.

“It’s such a unique opportunity to engage with people from 50 different countries in one room at the same time,” she said.

Ellis, 29, is on track for a bright future, said Susanne Stirling, CalChamber vice president for international relations.

“With her academic, travel and language experience she has a strong foundation that will take her far,” Stirling said. “She has been a champion for trade and investment in California’s economy.”

Ellis was born and raised in Sacramento, with a mother who is a psychiatric nurse and a father who is a computer consultant.

She started studying Spanish in second grade, and cites a teacher from Venezuela who sparked an interest in Latin America. She continued her studies in Spanish at Fordham University, where she majored in Latin American studies and political science, and at University of California Los Angeles, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Latin America studies.

A key step on her career path was getting an internship at the Northern California World Trade Center, where she researched and contacted current or potential exporters. From there, she landed a position at CalChamber, where she has now worked for six years.

“I was trying to get a job after college and I wanted to do something in economic development that could help better the state and our lives here,” she said. “I didn’t realize the scope or gravity of it and how involved and passionate I would become about this.”

She is the liaison between dignitaries and the private sector and she interacts with members of the consular corps – those who work with consulates from different countries.

“California is home to the third biggest consular corps after Washington, D.C. and New York,” Ellis said, explaining that when representatives from different countries reach out to state officials they also want to meet with CalChamber.

Recently, she helped plan a delegation of more than 100 California business executives and senior California government officials to Japan for World Smart Energy Week. The program was led by Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and Dee Dee Meyers, director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz).

She is the liaison between dignitaries and the private sector and she interacts with members of the consular corps – those who work with consulates from different countries.

Ellis spent six months helping plan the trip and arrived early as part of an advance team. Among the accomplishments, according to Kounalakis’ office, were signing a new letter of intent by the governments of California and Japan “to work together to clean up a critical link in the global supply chain by collaborating on strategies to cut planet-warming pollution at seaports and establish green shipping corridors.” The trip also resulted in the signing of a memorandums of understanding between the Port of Los Angeles, the Port of Tokyo and the Port of Yokohama on sustainability and environmental issues.

“We got a lot of work done,” Ellis said, adding that it was her first trip to Asia.

Ellis is grateful to work under Stirling, who she says is “one of the greatest mentors I could have asked for.” She also appreciated being able to work under the late Allan Zaremberg, former CalChamber president and chief executive officer.

“I couldn’t have asked to learn from better people,” she said.

Ellis loves that her job at CalChamber allows her to stay in her hometown of Sacramento close to her family and friends. In her free time, she likes visiting the restaurants downtown and kayaking and paddleboarding in the river. During summers from college, she used to work at a rafting company.

She also enjoys listening to podcasts, especially those about biohacking, which involve small changes people can make to optimize their health and quality of life. For example, one tip is to get out in the early morning sunshine because of its benefit to improve mood and energy.

As to what’s next for her career, Ellis is not sure but she knows it will likely have something to do with international relations. For now, she is content.

“The chamber is a home away from home for me,” she said. “I like its mission to make California a better place to do business.”

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