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Gay Gaddis, Founder and CEO of T3: Go With Your Gut But Use Your Brain

Gay Gaddis

Gay Gaddis did not wait for the opportune moment to start her business. Her gut told her it was the right thing to do so she did it. She stared Austin-based advertising agency T3 in 1989 with $16,000 from her cashed-in individual retirement account, while the economy was going through a downturn and she had three children to support.

Today, her company T3 (short for The Think Tank) is the largest woman-owned ad agency in the United States and works with Fortune 200 companies.

Gaddis recently spoke to students and faculty of The University of Texas at Austin as part of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship speaker series, Entrepreneurship Live!, and shared advice about how she built her business.

Assemble a Diverse Staff

As an extrovert, Gaddis said she needs the energy of others around her in order to flourish. She realized that aspect of herself while working at the Richards Group advertising agency, after graduating from UT with a degree in studio art. Despite having a standout portfolio book, being stuck in a cubicle meant she wasn't able to interact with others in order to create.

Aware of the way colleagues can inspire each other, she now uses Myers-Briggs personality tests to help make sure she has a diverse staff at T3. "I try to find people who shore up my weaknesses," Gaddis said.

 "We get so stuck on our own viewpoints — we need help to be shown other options," Gaddis said.

Always Look Ahead

In order to stay successful, Gaddis said T3 is always looking ahead. T3 strives to do something new and inventive when helping to advertise to customers. She said the firm is always paying attention to emerging trends like artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Optimistic But Realistic

Gaddis views herself as an optimist but tempers that with an analytical mind. Planning for a crisis is extremely important, she said, and taking situations apart is a good way to understand them. However, she will still always trust her gut over her head. "If it's the right thing to do, you push your qualms aside and you do it," Gaddis said.

She attributes her tenacity to being an only child and losing her father when she was 13. At 14, she got her first job and has been focused on taking care of people close to her ever since.

In 1989, Gaddis was a senior partner at ad agency Fellers & Gaddis. She came up with a business plan and submitted it to the owner. When he decided not to follow the plan she quit and took three client accounts with her and launched T3, now a multi-million dollar company.

When she started the company she was supporting three kids so, "failure was not an option."

Never Say 'No'

When a client comes to her with a request Gaddis said she always finds a way to do it. Things may seem impossible, she said, but there are ways to achieve them — sooner or later.

She is putting her positive attitude down on paper: Gaddis is currently writing a book called "Cowgirl Power" which is focused on women in the workforce. She argues that women are doing much better than the media says. The success is coming from women’s roles on high performing teams where true innovation and leadership are born. For example, she says the creative groups that come up with the newest business plans, technologies, or strategies are all being strongly influenced by women.

"Leadership does not come from the top down," Gaddis said. "It comes from the bottom up."

Entrepreneurship Live! is a speaker series and podcast featuring entrepreneurs across different industries that is broadcast by TexTalks

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