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Kelley Gay: Strength through adaptability

Lessons in sports helped former UConn athlete prepare for corporate success

The power of reflection, including an ability to critique herself and receive constructive criticism, is central to Kelley Gay’s desire to constantly expand and perfect her skills.

As vice president of corporate marketing and communications, Gay oversees seven business units that support the delivery of OneAmerica’s brand management initiatives. Success in her role at the life insurance, retirement plan and employee benefits company based in Indianapolis requires her to strengthen the company’s culture and offer inspiration through storytelling. Each day, Gay draws upon childhood, collegiate experiences and on-the-job learning to develop herself as a person, professional communicator and corporate executive.

Biography

Kelley (Hunt) Gay
Vice president of corporate marketing and communications at OneAmerica

Hometown: Londonderry, New Hampshire

Current residence: Zionsville, Indiana

School: Bachelor’s degree in English, University of Connecticut, 1998

Sport: Women’s basketball

Fun fact: Gay is passionate about diversity and inclusion initiatives, especially those designed for students from preschool to high school. She supports and leads those programs when she can.

Raised in Londonderry, New Hampshire, with her twin sister, younger sister and parents, Kevin and Joan Hunt, Gay had a happy childhood. Her father, a retired NFL player, encouraged Gay to pursue athletics at a young age. Her mother drove home the belief that you can do anything you set your mind to.

“I remember playing soccer and softball; my father instilled the value and benefit of being on a team,” Gay explained. “He wanted me to experience working with others to achieve a common goal and taught me teamwork requires humility.”

After trying a variety of sports, Gay decided to focus on basketball. Through hard work and self-enforced practice, she became an up-and-coming star. During her final years of high school, Gay was recruited by numerous colleges and ultimately decided to attend the University of Connecticut and join its rising basketball team.

“I knew I wanted to be close to home and part of something bigger than me,” Gay said. “And by bigger than me, I’m talking about making me a better person and athlete. I had a very narrow view on life and what was expected of me as a student-athlete. I knew UConn and their coaches would challenge me.”

In 1995, Gay’s freshman year, the women’s basketball team, under coach Geno Auriemma, won its first national championship. And while Gay celebrated with her teammates and basked in their groundbreaking accomplishment, internally she was struggling to come to terms with her role on the team.

“In high school, I was a 25-points-per-game player, but sitting center stage at UConn, I was on the second team,” Gay recalled. “My main job was to make the starters better, and I struggled with accepting that. My pride and my head got in the way.”

Riding the bench tested Gay’s emotional strength and belief in her abilities. It was a physically and mentally taxing process, but over time Gay was able to find her feet and thrive in the supporting role that her coaches and team needed her to play.

“Every single element of my game was broken down and reformatted. Trust in myself, teammates and coaches was a really important part of my journey,” Gay said. “I had to be resilient and really believe that the new me was the person UConn needed. I was determined to help this team and work for playing time.”

Gay graduated from UConn in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in English and began working as a communications specialist at Phoenix Life Insurance Co. Although Gay quickly learned that an office job working in a cubicle wasn’t necessarily suited for her energy level, she focused on how she could best benefit from this position to propel her career.

After two years, Gay had learned to develop strong relationships and connect with colleagues. She realized that working hard didn’t mean one had to work 12-hour days. Instead, it meant working smart and focusing your efforts.

“Being receptive to positive and constructive feedback was crucial,” Gay said. “I responded and thrived on how to improve my workplace performance, which mirrored when I was coached at Connecticut. From my playing days, I knew I respond better to before-the-game coaching versus after-the-game coaching.”

Gay became a financial advisor for Smith Barney, now Morgan Stanley, in 2000. After two years, she joined MassMutual as a director of life product marketing, a position that broadened her business skills. Gay credits her career growth to having strong mentors who invested time into developing her. She remained at MassMutual until 2011, eventually becoming an assistant vice president.

In her role today at OneAmerica, Gay regularly reflects on lessons she learned as a student-athlete to strengthen her relationships.

“New Hampshire was pretty homogenous, and I did not experience a lot of diversity,” Gay said about her childhood. “At UConn and during the beginning of my career, I realized that different perspectives and backgrounds create deeper conversations and experiences. Working together creates better outcomes.”

Gay believes that for organizations to thrive, employees must embrace adaptability — a trait she feels is undervalued in today’s workplace. Gay has learned change isn’t just required in today’s business world; it is an essential life skill. The ability to adapt is crucial for success.

“It’s the combination of lessons learned on and off the court that turns you from a student-athlete to a corporate athlete,” Gay explained. “We have integrity, teamwork, a strong work ethic, competitiveness, authenticity and resiliency. Athletes, like corporate leaders, see the long game. They know that you might lose a game today, but you’re going to win the championship later.”

Submitted photos by UConn Athletics, OneAmerica.

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