Alumna runs successful Austin-based advertising firm

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Gay Gaddis is the president and CEO of T3, the largest advertising agency owned by a woman in the United States. Gaddis, a UT alumna, opened her company, which now has offices in New York City and San Francisco, in 1989.

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

On any given day, Gay Gaddis strides past ping pong tables, two TV-sized porcelain Cheez-Its and her employees’ dogs before even reaching her office. Gaddis is the president and CEO of T3, the largest advertising agency owned by a woman in the United States.

“It must’ve been somewhere in my DNA or my psyche,” Gaddis said. “Every person on either side of my entire family is some kind of entrepreneur and had their own businesses.”

About a decade before Gaddis opened her advertising agency in 1989, she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in studio art from the University. The time-intensive major required her to spend nine hours in the studio for every three hours of assigned class time. Despite her demanding degree, Gaddis involved herself to a number of professional and social organizations, including Pi Beta Phi sorority, Texas Spirits and a position on staff for the
Cactus Yearbook. 

While Gaddis was a student, an in-house advertising agency worked closely with the art department. Through her experience as an assistant for the program, Gaddis was first introduced to the world of advertising that would later define her career. 

“I had already started behaving like I was in an advertising agency,” Gaddis said. “I was writing copy and working with the other students as kind of a creative director. I started out with that program knowing that was probably what I wanted to do when I got out of school.”

After graduation, Gaddis spent several years trying out positions in public relations, management and consulting. When the economic recession of the ’80s hit, Gaddis worked for a company that was making harsh financial cuts to avoid going under. She decided to take initiative by drafting a more efficient business plan and proposing it to the president.

“So lo and behold, the president rejected my business plan, and I got mad,” Gaddis said.  “I said, ‘Alright, I’m broke. I don’t have any money. I don’t have anything to lose,’ So, I went and cashed in my IRA. I had $16,000, and I opened my business one month from the day I quit. I didn’t even know what I was going to do.” 

Staying up to date with innovation is a cornerstone of Gaddis’ business plan. Since T3’s inception, offices have opened in New York City and San Francisco because these areas are consistently connected to talent and clientele at the forefront of technological development. 

T3 has remained a leader in this movement ever since its early years of operation when it signed Dell as a client. Gaddis said she is proud that her employees were some of the first to learn how to market efficiently using the internet.

“Failure was not an option,” Gaddis said. “I had to make something work. I didn’t have the exact vision of how big it was going to get. I used to think, ‘We’ll never be over 50 people.’”

Gaddis also currently serves as the chair for the Committee of 200, an entirely female organization of successful entrepreneurs and corporate business leaders dedicated to helping aspiring businesswomen. Priding herself on never passing up a good business opportunity, Gaddis has a firm grasp on what it takes to achieve one’s goals in the professional environment.

“You’ve got to really know yourself and what your strength and weaknesses are and be really candid about them,” Gaddis said. “You’d be surprised how many people don’t get that.”