Room at the Top Businesswoman: Katie Harvey

When the San Antonio Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners named Katie Harvey a winner of the 2003 Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, the group could not have made a better choice for their Benefactor category.She also was selected as one of six finalists from among 200 nominees for the 2003 Athena Award, designed to recognize outstanding professional and businesswomen and to incorporate them into leadership positions within the chambers of commerce.

Harvey is a woman who has racked up a list of achievements that many people pursue for a lifetime with only limited success — and she is merely 33 years old. But then, she started early. She is president and CEO of KGBTexas, a public relations, marketing and advertising company she founded in 1994 with a degree from Southwest Texas State University, $2,000 in start-up money, one employee and boundless faith in the abilities of the company’s CEO.”It’s your life,” she explains. “When you’re very young, you have no money and no responsibilities, and it just never occurs to you that you could fail. I was too young, too naïve. Youth is the greatest confidence builder.”Even a lackluster economic picture was no stumbling block for all of that youthful energy coupled with a congenital business sense; dedication to the task at hand has steered her little enterprise into a debt-free, multimillion-dollar company that is the largest public relations firm in San Antonio owned by a woman and the city’s second largest overall. Harvey employs 19 people in her Oakwell Farms office, 17 of whom are women.

“The only way you can be a success is to surround yourself with the best people,” Harvey says. “The people in this office are so young and so talented that if you don’t stay energized, they’ll leave you behind. In this business you have to over-deliver on a daily basis because it’s very competitive.” Watching them grow makes it easy to maintain a high level of enthusiasm, Harvey says. “I love what I do. Nothing ever gets stale. Every day we’re juggling 45 different entities, from charities to health care to Alamo Workforce Development.” San Antonio is a great place for ambitious women, Harvey says. “We are so lucky because we have women role models who are very, very accessible. I am grateful to some of the women in this community who have allowed themselves to be leaders, such as Tracy Wolff (wife of former mayor and County Judge Nelson Wolff), former Mayor Lila Cockrell, Alamo Workforce chair Elaine Mendoza and Rosemary Kowalski (founder of the RK Group caterers).”

In fact, a list of her clients, past and present, reads like a Who’s Who of the top businesses, organizations and institutions in San Antonio and South Texas, along with a few incorporated cities: Brooks City Base; Christus Santa Rosa Health Care; Krispy Kreme Doughnuts; Blockbuster Inc.; Gruene, TX; the City of Windcrest; Taco Cabana; International Bancshares Corporation; Morton’s of Chicago, etc. etc.Harvey supervises all ongoing accounts and coordinates publicity development, strategic marketing and image management for each client.”This company is different every year, and I do enjoy building things. In the near future, this won’t be the only company I own,” she added. “It’s like I spent my whole life itching to be working. I was never satisfied, never content.”Harvey grew up in China Spring, a little farming community outside Waco. She was so eager to make her way in the world that she scarcely had time for high school.

She graduated in what was to have been her junior year. And she was off and away.While she was still in college, she was executive administrator for football legend Earl Campbell, coordinating all of the Hall of Famer’s endorsements and appearances. She also established the nonprofit arm of the Earl Campbell Enterprises and orchestrated sponsorships of the Earl Campbell Football Camps.Before she created her own company, she was put in charge of all United States public relations for Kaepa Athletic Shoes, for whom she generated multimillion-dollar campaigns, including story placement on the Today Show and Good Morning America along with feature coverage in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and a slew of trade publications.She also was director of public relations and marketing for Aztex Foods, a restaurant franchise headquartered in San Antonio.The fact that she accomplished all of this before her 25th birthday surely qualifies her as a bona fide wunderkind, a prodigy who was treading in the very large footsteps of her father, David Gardner.”My family is in the Arabian horse business,” says Harvey. “At one time he had the largest Arabian horse farm in the United States. He still trains and breeds horses. I was cleaning stalls and working horses long before Texas child-labor laws would have allowed it.

My dad would pull me out of school for a week or 10 days to compete in horse shows. I got to do wonderful things and travel to wonderful places, and I learned valuable lessons about winning and losing. To keep up with school work I had to send in daily homework assignments.”Even then, she was quite focused and task-oriented.”I learned that you have to take on responsibility for yourself. My parents taught my brother and me how long it took to earn $7, how many hours you had to work for it. They taught us to take responsibility for things you didn’t do as well as you might have and not try to blame others for your mistakes,” she explains.By example David and Marion Gardner also gave their children the gift of living fearlessly.

In 2000, when Marion Gardner was diagnosed with breast cancer, she and her husband went to three of the major cancer treatment centers in the country, and they were told three different things. “When my mother was diagnosed, my father found it overwhelming. They didn’t know where to go and what to do,” Harvey remembers. So the couple approached cancer treatment as a research project. David Gardner made copious and exact notes, which he later developed into a how-to manual, a compact disc and a workbook for women diagnosed with breast cancer and their caregivers.

Five years ago, at the age of 33, Mike Gardner, Harvey’s only sibling, turned his back on a successful corporate career in electronics and started San Miguel Worldwide Outfitters, a company that sets up and guides hunting and fishing expeditions all over the world.About eight years ago, David and Marion Gardner were involved in a terrible car accident near Fort Worth, and Harvey underwent a mind-altering experience. “I nearly lost both of my parents,” Harvey says. “I walked out of my office and rushed to the hospital in Fort Worth. I didn’t come back for three weeks. I learned two things: this business isn’t all there is to life, and this place doesn’t revolve around me.”

During this critical time, Harvey also met a life-changing person — her husband Jeff Harvey, an attorney partner with the firm of Jackson and Walker. “He said, ‘You are the most uptight 26-year-old I ever met. If you keep on at this rate, you’ll be dead by the time you’re 30. I’m going to teach you how to enjoy life. This (his law practice and her business) is not what it’s all about. This is only a means to every other thing in life.'”My husband is my true soul mate,” says Harvey. “He is one of the funniest, most honest people I know. What you see is what you get.”Not quite two years ago, the couple had a son, Jax Harvey, who is “happy, independent and hilarious.” At the time of our interview, the Harveys were expecting their second son, Colt Jeffrey.

Author: Loydean Thomas

Photographer: Liz Garza Williams

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