As the CEO and founder of T3, one of the largest woman-owned independent advertising agencies in the country, Gay Gaddis is a fearless leader and true Fairygodboss. In her new book, Cowgirl Power: How to Kick Ass in Business and Life, Gay offers advice on how women can take more ownership over their careers and family life, just like she did. Learn more about her book and inspiring career on her website, gaygaddis.com.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Gay Gaddis
Founder and CEO, T3
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
By focusing on my strengths and letting go of my weaknesses. In building my strengths, I gained personal power along the way. There were many watershed moments when I realized I had the personal power to get through difficult situations and grow my confidence. I have also been a risk taker, and I believe that “everything is sweetened by risk.” This is inscribed on the top of a little box that my mother-in-law gave me shortly after I started my own company, T3 almost 30 years ago. It still has a special place on my desk.
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
About 25 years ago, when my advertising agency, T3 was much smaller (around 35 people), we were ramping up our business with Dell Computer Corporation. Four of the women on my T3 Dell team got pregnant within a few weeks of each other. Terrified that they would not come back to work after their babies were born, I convinced them to bring the babies back with them to the office after their maternity leaves. Today this program is affectionately called “T3 and Under,” and I am so proud that we have had over 100 babies in the program. Both mothers and fathers have participated. It is just part of our culture. It is one way we say we care about our employees and their families.
What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
The 2008-2009 recession was a killer! All of our clients were cutting their budgets and losing headcount. I remember when I came back from the holidays in early 2009, every phone call I got was bad news. I wanted to throw up my hands and say, “Don’t bring me no bad news,” to quote the famous line from the Broadway musical, The Whiz. However, the bad news kept coming. We had to cut overhead and asked everyone remaining to take a pay cut. It was heartbreaking, because we were losing business even though we were doing a good job. It was just that everyone was in the same boat. Eventually, because of our strong technology marketing skills, we built back the business faster than most ad agencies that were focused only on traditional ads and media. It saved us, and by the end of 2009, we made everyone whole for the year with their salaries. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when we announced this!
What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
My #1 career tip is to start as early as you can to build your network. Through the years all of the goodwill you garner with trusted friends and colleagues will get you through the ups and downs of life. In my book, Cowgirl Power: How to Kick Ass in Business and Life, I suggest you build buckets and buckets of goodwill without expecting anything in return. You will be surprised how these deeds of kindness will all come back to you at some point in your career—sometimes in magical ways that you could never have imagined.
Why do you love where you work?
I absolutely love where I work at T3 because of the amazingly talented, bright people I have the pleasure of working with. Their innovation, creativity, and sheer ability to execute on a dime is just incredible. And, on top of everything, they are damn nice people!
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
I’m part of an organization called C200. Our goal is to advance women’s leadership in business. So many of the women I have worked alongside are my fairygodbosses: Ellen Kullman, Denise Morrison, Maggie Wilderotter, Jane Gladstone, Ronee Hagen, Larraine Segil, Katherine Swintek, and Kay Koplovitz, to name a few!
What do you do when you're not working?
Honestly, as the founder and CEO of my company, I work at almost any time I need to. However, spending time at our family ranch in the historic Texas Hill Country is my salvation. I love being in the country and returning to my cowgirl roots. Riding horses, raising Texas Longhorn Cattle, attending to my organic garden, cooking, and reading and writing. I also do all of my paintings in plein air at our ranch capturing beautiful abstract sunsets, sunrises and the rolling hills. Most of my work on Cowgirl Power: How to Kick Ass in Business and Life was done at our Double Heart Ranch.
If you could have dinner with one famous person—dead or alive—who would it be?
The author, Daphne du Maurier. She passed away a few years ago, and I absolutely love her books and writing. She wrote about murder mysteries, including The Birds, which Alfred Hitchcock made into an award-winning movie.
What is your karaoke song?
“Desperado.” I suck at singing this song, but I try!
What is your favorite movie?
What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
Daphne du Maurier’s book, Rebecca.
What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
Designer handbags. They make such a statement and last longer because of their quality. Plus, you carry one every day. If I won the lottery, I would also buy more land in the Texas Hill Country!