Owen Hannay still remembers the first paycheck he got as a teen—a mere $13 for mowing his neighbor’s lawn. The founder and CEO of advertising agency Slingshot has always had a passion for “growing things.” He’s an avid gardener who loves everything about the hobby—except weeding, of course.
“It’s great therapy,” Hannay says. “My wife can always tell when I’ve had a bad week at the office because she comes home and I’m digging holes.”
The Dallas native’s love for greenery followed him throughout college. While pursuing an architecture degree from the University of Virginia, Hannay and his classmate started a lawn care company to make some extra cash. After getting an MBA from Southern Methodist University, he hoped to get into the real estate business. But the 1980s recession was in full swing in Dallas, making it impossible to find work in the industry.
Disillusioned and in need of employment, he decided to take a job in advertising instead. He fell in love with the business and founded Dallas-based Slingshot in 1995. The company has worked for a wide range of clients, including Verizon Wireless, Southern Comfort, Taco Bueno, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the American Heart Association. Slingshot also produced the first banner advertisement ever put on the internet.
“Gardens and businesses need the same kind of care and attention.”
Many of the skills Hannay has cultivated in gardening also apply in his professional life. “[Gardens and businesses] need the same kind of care and attention, sort of rhythmic maintenance, as well as care and understanding of what the needs of that specific plant or employee are,” he says.
And just as his gardening skills have aided him in the office, his advertising experience has spilled into his gardening practices. Hannay’s passion for design led him to create exterior landscaping plans for all of the homes he has purchased throughout the years.
Today, his garden includes various types of flowers, ranging from the classic and elegant rose to his personal favorite, the bright and fragrant plumeria. Hannay dabbles in vegetables, too, growing cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce.
He isn’t afraid to ditch the suit and tie for a more laid-back, and slightly disheveled, look. “I think that the one thing that probably surprises people when they see me [gardening] is just how dirty I really am. I never wear gloves, unless I’m doing something that is just going to rub my hands raw,” he says. “I get filthy.”
Hannay likes the complexity of gardening. Although it may seem to be a simple process to some, it requires knowledge, creativity, a tremendous amount of patience, and just a little bit of luck—especially with Texas’ unpredictable weather.
Hannay also picked up gardening ideas during a three-year stint living in Tokyo. There, he learned about two aesthetic philosophies that the Japanese incorporate into their gardening—Hade and Shibui. Hade, he explains, is more flashy and tends to use bright colors, while Shibui is more simple and subtle. Hannay likes to incorporate both techniques into his gardening and landscaping plans.
The CEO’s devotion to gardening goes beyond simply planting flowers and waiting around for them to bloom. He has an active composting system and a greenhouse where his neighbors can bring their dying plants, such as orchids, for him to regrow. Once they blossom, he gives them back to the owner.
Hannay is adamant that a hobby should not feel like work. Despite all the effort required, a hobby should be an enjoyable and relaxing activity.
“The thing that’s so much more fun about gardening than other things is if you start a gardening project and you get busy, and you drop it for two or three weeks, you come back and it’s grown,” he says. “If you do the same thing on a plumbing project or an electrical project, it’s just dusty.”