10 Most Admired Women in Business
Published by Aspioneer Magazine
[ARTICLE] Gay Gaddis believes ‘hard work is at the core of everything’
Meet Gay Gaddis, founder of T3, author, artist, trailblazer, and CEO of Gay Gaddis, LLC. Her unique ability allows her to leverage her business background to empower future leaders, and as an artist, her creative vision drives her business success. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art degree from the University of Texas, which prepared her to lead hundreds of creatives in her innovative marketing and digital agency, T3. Gay’s story of building her business, T3, from the ground up gives her unique entrepreneurial insights that she uses to innovate and grow her new business and new programs.
Aspioneer admires Gay and appreciates her contribution to the industry. Below are the highlights of the interview between Aspioneer and Gay:
Could you tell us a bit about your organization and how it works?
In 1989, I founded T3 (The Think Tank), an innovative digital advertising agency that I grew into the largest female-owned advertising agency in the U.S. With offices in Austin, New York, Atlanta, and San Francisco, I led T3 into national prominence for over 30 years. In 2019, I sold T3 to a leading private equity firm and launched my current business, Gay Gaddis, LLC, based in downtown Austin, Texas, with a private creative center, Fossil Ridge Art Studio and Gallery, in the Texas Hill Country, an hour outside of Austin. Currently, I am empowering entrepreneurs and the next generation of business leaders to take big leaps in their careers and lives. I am also an active speaker on women’s leadership, corporate culture, and entrepreneurship. I am the author of “Cowgirl Power: How to Kick Ass in Business & Life”, sharing insights and examples on how to develop personal power and lead fearlessly. I am the founder and co-instructor of a women’s development program, Women Who Mean Business, at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. I am also on numerous boards, including: President and Chair of the Board of Directors of Texas Exes, the official alumni association of the University of Texas; Dean’s Advisory Council to The University of Texas McCombs School of Business; Advisory Council for both the College of Fine Arts and the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas; Texas Cultural Trust Board of Directors; Former first female Chairman of the Texas Business Leadership Council, TBLC Executive Committee; Former Chairman of The Committee of 200 (C200), a top women’s business organization that advances women’s leadership in business; Immediate past board member for Monotype Imaging Holdings, Inc.
Two of my mantras when I led T3:
“Kick Ass Work for Clients Who Want to Kick Ass”: This is what set T3 apart from major competition across the globe. What made this statement special was that it not only defined T3’s goal for excellence and for hiring the brightest talent in the industry, but it also defined the type of clients T3 sought after. We didn’t work with just any business or company. We worked with award-winning businesses that searched for innovation, took risks, and were bold enough to experiment with technology and cutting-edge brand concepts. Many of T3’s clients were Fortune 100 companies.
“Thrive in Ambiguity”: The advertising industry moves fast, responding to current trends and technology, and when there are shifts in the economy, advertising can be the first budget to cut. So, T3’s mantra was to thrive in that uncertainty. Embrace it, accept it, and find ways to leverage that energy into powerful new tools, exciting advertising campaigns, and groundbreaking digital marketing concepts.
What is your story? How did you get to where you are now in your leadership role?
I grew up in the small Texas town of Liberty, Texas. My father passed away when I was only 13 years old, and my mother ran her own kindergarten to make ends meet. I helped support the household at a young age. My first job at 13 years old was as an engraver at a jewelry store. It was my first experience earning my own money and carrying financial responsibilities. Through scholarships and money that my family saved, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art from the University of Texas. I used my training as an artist to work in the creative department of an advertising agency, where I learned the ropes. After a few other positions, including working for a business consulting firm run by two Harvard MBA graduates who introduced me to the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, a tool that I used later, I decided to build my own advertising agency. Throughout high school, college, and my career, I have always stepped up to take on leadership roles, which prepared me to be the CEO of my own company.
I watch the Texas skies. I grew up amongst farmers and ranchers who depended on the weather—the main topic at any meal. Painting skies and landscapes takes me back to memories of the wonderful people who helped raise me. Throughout my time building and leading my company T3, I never abandoned my passion for painting. I credit my business acumen to training as an artist and draw most of my inspiration from my family’s Longhorn ranch, the Double Heart Ranch, the home of Fossil Ridge Art Studio & Gallery, and my private sanctuary for creative thinking. At T3, I hired thousands of talented people over 30 years in business. It is one of my greatest joys in life—creating an environment and culture where people thrive. I believe providing jobs and leading is a noble calling. I built a creative environment, which still exists today, that nurtured talent, offered employees a place to hone their skills, and provided for their families. My book “Cowgirl Power: How to Kick Ass in Business & Life” empowers leaders worldwide by challenging them to take risks and put in the hard work to be successful. It offers young girls and women (as well as men) an authentic role model who ‘tells it like it is.” It also includes small vignettes of sometimes forgotten historic cowgirls who conquered the business world on their own terms before technology, equal rights, or childcare. In just the past three years, I have also helped over 150 rising businesswomen rocket their careers to the top through my women’s development program, Women Who Mean Business, at McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas. The six-month executive program spans across four in-person sessions and currently has a 97% NPS (Net Promoter Score) with an average of 47% of students achieving a raise or promotion in their career while enrolled in the program.
What has led you to evolve and extend your business? How have you embraced emerging technology as part of your business’s evolution?
One of the first big clients of T3 was the Dell Computer Corporation. In the early 1990s, they came to my agency, saying they wanted to harness the power of the internet. The internet perfectly aligned with Dell’s ‘direct to consumer’ business model, so I hired the brightest minds in technology at the time, which were few and far between, and my team broke ground. My agency won awards for executing some of the very first email campaigns, texting programs, online ads, and innovative websites. I remember when we experimented with the first dynamic digital ads that “talked” to each other across web pages. It was ground-breaking and set the standard for advertising around the world.
Then, after working with Dell for over 16 years, they came to me and said T3 would need to sell the agency to a holding company in order to keep their business. I knew it was not the right thing to do, so on that day, I walked away from 70 million dollars of revenue. It nearly destroyed my company, T3, but I hit the streets. For the next eight to 10 months, I called and visited my vast network of clients and colleagues. I helped my employees, whom I had to lay off, find new jobs and took the tools they gained with the many years working with Dell to build a new portfolio of clients. By the end of that fiscal year, T3 had replaced Dell’s revenue completely with a wide network of new clients. Embracing technology is at the core of Gay’s entrepreneurial background.
Another example of embracing the changing times is the “T3 & Under” program. In the 1990s, I had four of my top female employees announce that they were expecting babies. In those days, affordable childcare and “work-life balance” didn’t exist, so I was worried that my key employees would not come back after maternity leave. So, I took a risk and created “T3 & Under,” a never-been-done, ground-breaking employee program. It gave working parents, moms and dads, the flexibility to bring their newborns to the office until they were six months old. My lawyers said it could not be done and that it was a huge liability, but I did it anyway. It was the right thing to do. Over the years, over 100 babies came in and out of T3 offices, retaining top talent and making the early days of parenthood easier for her staff. My program “T3 & Under” was all over the news. I appeared on The Today Show and Bloomberg TV and was even honored by the President of the United States at The White House. Once again, I embraced change and set new standards for business owners nationwide.
Visit Aspioneer Magazine to read the ’10 Most Admired Women in Business’ special issue.