Shattered ceiling for CEO Gray
By ROBERT LEE LONG
Gray is the CEO and there is a sign on her desk that greets clients when they sit down in the company’s headquarters on Getwell Road in Southaven.
“I Own the Company and He Works For Me,” the sign reads.
The Memphis native began a career in the banking industry, took a detour to the “Happiest Place on Earth” as a Walt Disney employee, and ended up owning her own company.
“To me, the message I would like to send is that you as a woman can dream,” Gray said. “It will take work and lots of sacrifice. It’s exhausting at times but it’s also rewarding.”
She and her husband Chris Gray have a blended family of five children.
DeSoto Technology Group, an 11-year-old company, was launched in the couple’s upstairs room.
The company’s headquarters has moved twice and the business has grown from the ground floor up.
“In the early days our computer techs were literally sitting on the floor and they were stacked one on another,” Gray said. “Sometimes, we had to make time for our children by eating dinner together at the office. My kids were all in their teens when the business started taking off. There were a lot of sacrifices to be made. It’s still important to me that my kids see their parents work hard.”
A decade later, the company boasts partnerships with technology giants Microsoft and Sonic Wall and telecommunications companies like Avaya and Panasonic.
Gray said the world her children and later generations are finding themselves becoming a part of is truly different than the world that she grew up in.
“The world my children live in is driven by technology,” Gray said.
Oddly enough, it was the human touch that gave Gray keen instincts on building business relationships.
Although she grew up in Memphis, Gray spent time spending summers in the Mississippi Delta — more specifically in Indianola, the birthplace of the blues and the home of blues legend B.B. King.
Her mother, Helen Cross, was a true Delta matriarch, who instilled in her children a sense of tradition and building lasting friendships and relationships.
“I credit her with telling me never to give up — to keep pushing and do more,” Gray said.
Gray’s strength lies in human resources and it’s in that realm where she made her mark.
She graduated from Memphis Preparatory School and studied at several two-year community colleges, before stints at jobs in the Florida Keys and Palm Beach, Fla., before moving back to Memphis.
Gray began a career in the banking industry with Commerce Union Bank.
“I took a summer job with hopes that it would turn into something,” Gray said. The year was 1987.
Subsequently, Gray would go on to spend more than 15 years working for the Walt Disney company in the distribution end of the business, which led to extensive knowledge in the e-commerce industry.
Around 2004, her husband Chris Gray was working at United Stationers in Memphis, which is a supplier to Staples and Office Max.
“They were going through some changes,” Gray said. “I was still working in my corporate role at Disney.”
Gray, a self-described visionary, said she saw that she wanted to pursue the dream of owning her own company “down the road.”
She never dreamed it would be a technology support company although she is technologically savvy to a certain extent.
Using her human resources skills and good business sense, Gray would hire individuals who were experts in that field.
“I’m probably the least tekkie person that I know but what I do know is how to manage people and tackle problems,” Gray said.
Her husband Chris was working the third shift and the couple’s schedules were often conflicting.
To spend more time together, they both decided they might want to combine professional interests.
“Chris has always had an interest in computers,” Gray said. “I just like to fix people’s stuff. We ultimately ended up making the decision to try something together. I knew that Disney was in the process of selling off the Disney stores.”
Gray received her “buy-out package” and reinvested that capital in her own start-up company.
“Very quickly, it changed from being a little fix-it company to partnering with Microsoft and Sonic Wall,” Gray said.
Gray said her company can help clients with video-conferencing, cabling, both voice and data, access control, web site design and network applications and support.
“We don’t develop software but we support and troubleshoot,” Gray said. “We are starting to look at app development.”
Being connected to the wider world is “critically important,” according to Gray.
“It’s all about building relationships,” Gray said.
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252
You can read the official interview here.