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Texas native and Houston Rockets fan Alicia Smith Kriese borrows a guiding principle from basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon: "Stay hungry, stay humble." Ms. Kriese, 36, seems to be succeeding at both.

The senior VP-business development director at GSD&M, Austin, Texas, joined the agency more than 12 years ago as an account supervisor because of its entrepreneurial reputation. When GSD&M created a new-business department in 1994, Ms. Kriese was its only member. Since then, she has helped boost the agency's billings from $277 million to a current estimate of $800 million.

She uses words such as "risk," "explore" and "be vulnerable." Her role goes beyond winning new business; one of the most rewarding parts of her job is working with long-standing clients such as Wal-Mart Stores to develop their businesses. The goal is "to change the mindset. It's not `What do we have to get done?' but, `What can we do?' to bring new energy, new enthusiasm, new ideas," she says.

Ms. Kriese might be more like her basketball idol than she thinks.

"She's extremely competitive. She's also someone who loves to win and hates to lose, and in that role, she's pretty amazing," says GSD&M President Roy Spence.

Ms. Kriese says the focus of her department is "where things are going, not where things have been."

To Ms. Kriese, it's always about the next step -- about making her agency or her client bigger, newer, better. She seems fearless, saying she is drawn to "anything involved with defying odds and surprising people and trying new things."

Yet her humility is as apparent as her hunger. Ms. Kriese led the department that brought to GSD&M the Wenner Media account in July, which could be worth as much as $10 million with its launch of Us Weekly in March, and the $100 million-plus SBC Communications business last month. Still, she says it's the agency that gets her in the doors of prospective clients.

"The collision of all this creativity and people get you to a place you'd never have been on your own. Individuals don't win new business, companies do. All I'm doing is being a messenger for 600 people, and hopefully, I've been a significant part of how we've got there."

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