In addition to heading up T3, which boasts $200 million dollars in yearly revenue and an impressive roster of Fortune 500 clients including Chase and Pfizer, Gay is a mother of three (one daughter and two stepsons), a wife and a Texas Longhorn cattle rancher. Despite constant flights, layovers and the manual labor that comes with owning a ranch, she is perky, polished and always fashion-forward. “I wore this Stella McCartney dress with grommets on the plane,” says Gay. “Can you imagine? I went through the metal detector and it went right off.”
Tell us about your childhood.
I was an only child. I remember when I was five years old my mother got me a drum majorette costume. I put it on, enlisted people to be in my parade and marched around the neighborhood. My parents were always encouraging me to take leadership positions.
Who was your biggest influence?
My mother. When she was 13 years old she was diagnosed with bone cancer and they had to remove her right arm. She’s been a huge mentor and cheerleader for me because she has such a “can-do” attitude. With one arm, you need so many work-arounds. I grew up watching a person who met an obstacle and just figured it out.
How did you end up in marketing?
I always migrated toward artistic pursuits. My first job was as a designer and copywriter for The Richards Group in Dallas. From there, I ended up as the director of public relations at the Baylor Medical Center. I was so young but had some wild experiences there: the first successful reattachment of a hand back on to the body and a heart surgery on Benigno Aquino, Jr., a major opposition leader in the Philippines who was later assassinated.
When did you get married?
I was 22 years old. I met my first husband at the University of Texas. He was a fraternity guy-- very social and fun to be with, but not the long haul right match for me. He got into the orthodontic program at Emory, so I moved to Atlanta for a few years. I didn’t know anybody but got a job at a management consulting firm. We had gigs with Coke, P&G and Delta. I was their marketing director and at the same time went to school to get my MBA from Georgia State.
How did you end up back in Texas?
My husband got a job in Austin, so we moved back which I was not happy about. It was a sleepy town for marketing and advertising. I thought, ‘this is going to ruin it for me.’ My husband and I eventually got divorced. I got a job at a small marketing company with about 18 people which we grew to a staff of 100. I wrote a business plan on how the company could make it through the 1980s recession and the CEO at the time said, ‘I’m not going to support your business plan.’ I was furious. I went down to his office and quit. I remember saying ‘If I can’t do this here, I’m going to do it somewhere else.’
You were going through a divorce and you quit your job... this must have been a rough time in your life.
Yes, and it got more complicated, I ended up marrying that CEO’s partner, Lee. He had two sons and I had a little three-year-old girl. We had these three little kids running amok. I had no money because I had taken pay cuts and gone through a divorce. I cashed in my IRA and begged this female real estate mogul to lease me my first 1,000 square feet of space. I said, ‘I have nothing, but I promise I can make a living and pay my rent.” So she took a risk on me. That’s how it works, you meet people along the way who take a risk on you.
It sounds like your company has come a long way since then.
One thing led to another... now we have Fortune 100 and 200 companies on our client roster.
Do your husband and children work in the business too?
Lee ended up joining the company as chief operating officer. He is an awesome strategy guy. In a business you reach these plateaus – he’s been really good at seeing when those are coming. Two of our kids are in the business. Lee’s eldest son, Ben (29), is an expert in mobile marketing and also works on new business and emerging media. My daughter, Rebecca (26) works in our corporate communications group. Lee’s youngest son, Sam (25), works for a mobile apps start-up company called Mutual Mobile.
Do they all live in Austin?
Yes, they all have homes in Austin and we also own an apartment in New York. We have a ranch in Texas, too. Lee comes from an old ranching family in South Texas. We ended up selling that property when his mother passed away but bought another ranch closer to Austin called the Double Heart.
How would you define your style?
Very eclectic – but it works.
Does your wardrobe differ from Texas to New York?
At the ranch I don’t wear makeup or do my nails very often because I work with my hands. It’s hot, so I try to wear comfortable, lightweight fabrics.
I’ve become such a New Yorker. When I walk in New York, I change my shoes – I have flip flops or flats and put on heels when I have a meeting.
Who are your favorite designers?
I like Stella McCartney a lot. Her clothes are classic but with an edge. Helmut Lang clothes are awesome. Kay Unger and Beauty Mark really appreciate a woman’s body-- the shaping and the ruching are forgiving. I love, love, love Gucci bags -- they’re what I splurge on like crazy.
Where do you shop?
In New York, I like Blush. It’s a funny little shop and the two ladies just love to put stuff on me. Palma on Broome Street is another favorite. In Austin, I like a store called Kickpleat and one called By George. They’ve always been fashion forward.
Who influenced your style?
My mother always wore lovely clothes, and her mother, my grandmother, sewed beautifully. She had a fabulous button collection. I remember sitting in her attic and laying all the buttons out by color.
Do you have a signature piece?
I have a necklace with our ranch logo on it in diamonds. It has two hearts with a bar going through it for Double Heart ranch. The story behind ‘Double Heart’ is that George Washington Maltsberger was on his way to Texas with his fiancee Roxanna Allen to make their home. He rode along ahead of the trail group. When he’d set up camp, he’d find a tree and carve a heart in it. Then the wagon trains with Roxanna would come a few days behind… She would find the tree with the heart, carve another heart in it and draw a bar through both. They eventually made their way to their ranch near San Antonio, TX.
MontBlanc. It’s earthy and a bit masculine in a way. Sometimes on the weekends, I’ll put on White Shoulders, an old, old, fragrance that’s nostalgic to me. It smells like the home of this woman I used to visit in Liberty, Texas, when I was a child.
What book do you love?
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. ‘Fierce conversations’ are the toughest to have but if you’re not candid with people, you are going to find yourself really disappointed down the line.
What’s your favorite restaurant in New York?
Gotham Bar and Grill; I love it because the food is great, the service is excellent and even though it’s big and billowy the sound quality is good for conversation. I also like Dévi -- a funky little Indian restaurant. They have this drink called the Mumbai Margarita that I really like because it’s finished with cayenne pepper which it gives it a kick.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Texas?
Jeffrey’s in Austin is a classic. The chef went with the Bushes to the White House because it was their favorite place. I also love Fonda San Miguel, a unique, one-off restaurant with interior Mexican food. For the best Tex-Mex in Austin, there’s a place called Guero’s. Their margaritas are the real thing. Out in the Hill Country, the barbecue places are unbelievable; Inman’s in Marble Falls, Texas has the best turkey sausage.
Favorite Secret Place?
My garden… I go there to relax but since I’m physically working, my mind is working too. It’s where I solve things. One time I posted on Facebook: “Weeding my garden and my mind.”
What wisdom do you have for other FOFs?
I think men understand the idea of reciprocity better than women. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.