On 1 March, Cathy Davies became global head of comms and PR for Sony Ericsson, taking over from the departing Aldo Liguori. Ten days later Japan suffered its most powerful earthquake and tsunami since records began.
As a result, mobile phone manufacturer Sony Ericsson suffered serious component shortages days before the launch of new model Xperia Arc in Japan. 'It was a huge challenge, not only for the company, but also for me personally because I barely had my feet under my new desk,' says Davies.
'The first priority was to find out if our staff in Japan were safe; thankfully they were. Next we started our relief programme and made donations. Then we identified how our business was affected. From the outset, we took the stance of being open in our comms approach.'
Davies praises the 'stoic nature' of the staff in Japan, which allowed business to continue as close to normal as possible. 'It's too early to realise the financial implications, but the launch of our Xperia Arc in April was our most successful Japan launch,' she says of the phone, which has been the top selling smartphone in Japan for the past month.
Just two months later, news broke of a major security breach at Sony PlayStation's Network and Sony Online Entertainment. But Davies says this has not had a negative impact on the Sony Ericsson brand.
'When it happened we debated whether we should send an email out reassuring people. We decided it was best not to as it could cause panic, plus we received very little communication asking if our security had been breached. We have totally separate servers and don't share information.'
In person Davies, 39, is chatty, engaging and down-to-earth. Although clearly driven, her route into PR was not an orthodox one. She originally planned to become a barrister but thanks to a holiday job selling Ford cars, was lured in a different direction. 'I ended up loving the craft of PR, what customers think and how to influence what they think,' says Davies. 'So I applied for Ford's sales and marketing graduate programme and got accepted.'
Many promotions followed and Davies soon became Ford's sales and marketing manager. She was heavily involved in the Ford Motability programme, which worked with charity Motability helping disabled people become mobile. It gave her a high level of responsibility, and resulted in her being headhunted by the charity a year later.
'I grew up overnight moving from a company as vast as Ford to a company where I was one of five directors. I was brought in to turn the charity into a professional company, with values, a vision and a quality reputation,' she says.
But the car industry called her back and after a two-year stint at Nissan, in its marketing and comms team, Davies found herself back at Ford helping with the Focus RS launch. 'This was eight years ago and it was when I had my first sniff of how powerful social media can be in a PR context,' says Davies.
'We had to keep a passionate and highly enthusiastic group of customers happy. Most of them were members of the Ford Focus Owners Club and they would blog and communicate about the cars. This information was invaluable as a PR resource. I learnt very quickly that good PR is open, engaging and always has the thoughts of the consumer in mind.'
Ford Asia Pacific and Africa president Peter Fleet, who worked with Davies during this time, says: 'She is direct, transparent and always looks for the positive. She has a neat ability to jump between tactics and strategy while still remaining very focused on the long-term. She also has a great ability to motivate her team and colleagues to give that little extra effort that makes all the difference.
'And she doesn't take herself too seriously either, which keeps her grounded,' he adds.
Now at the helm of Sony Ericsson's comms operation, Davies has to help the brand meet its target of becoming the Android market leader.
She is also hoping the move into mobile gaming with the launch of the Xperia Play (PlayStation phone) will help the brand crack the US market. To stay ahead of the competition, she believes the brand needs to take a more proactive PR approach.
'One of our biggest PR resources is our product blog, which is like a finger on the pulse of our consumers. To hit the right PR mark we have to be holistic in our messages. A lot of people think comms is about telling - it's also about listening and we do plenty of that,' she says.
2011: VP, global head of brand and comms, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications
2008: Global head of brand, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications
2007: Director of global marcoms, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications
2007: Director of performance & consumer insights, Ford Motor Company, Europe
2004: Head of marketing comms and sponsorship, Ford Motor Company, UK
2002: Brand manager Ford Focus and Medium Cars, Ford Motor Company, UK
2000: Director of regional advertising, Ford Motor Company, Europe
1998: Fleet sales and marketing manager, Nissan Motor GB
1994: Operations director, Motability
1991: Motability brand manager, Ford Motor Company,UK
CATHY DAVIES' TURNING POINTS
What was your biggest career break?
When Motability took a risk by employing me as their operations director when I was only 24 years old. It was a coming of age role that saw me in charge of 100 staff and charged with transforming the charity into a professional company.
Have you had a notable mentor?
Noel Muddiman from Motability. He taught me to listen, really listen, and to sit back and assess the situation before deciding on a strategy. And that once you make a decision, stick to it and don't look back.
What advice would you give someone climbing the career ladder?
Think of yourself as a brand and always think of the mark you are leaving. You will have to stand out and be true to the brand you create - never forget that. Remember to keep evolving and don't get left behind.
What qualities do you prize in new recruits?
Curiosity and passion. Even if you don't know what you're doing, if you have these qualities you will find a way to work it out. Passionate people can influence change and if you lack this you will never be fully brilliant.