PROFILE: Gamsin's ability to pull through in a crisis: priceless

Sharon Gamsin handled crisis comms for the NYSE during the 1987

crash. and a 20-million beverage recall for SmithKlineBeecham. So you'd

think MasterCard would be a relative stroll. Not so, discovers Robin


A dark gray Toyota Camry rolls out of Manhattan's Upper East Side every

weekday morning at 7:30am. The car returns to its garage at 8:30pm.

Its 60-mile round trip to Westchester is done for another day.

The driver is Sharon Gamsin, VP of global communications for MasterCard

International. "I love to drive," she says, "so unless there's bad

traffic, I don't mind it. I find it very relaxing."

Which is good, because at work, Gamsin fires on all cylinders.

"There are no such things as ordinary days," she says. Her floor holds

stacks of legal documents relating to various lawsuits. Her desk

supports photos of her cat, her niece, and her nephew. And tacked to her

bulletin board are a phone list and inspirational sayings on how to

manage corporate reputation.

Gamsin is responsible for all MasterCard PR activities. Her team handles

marketing and sponsorship communications (including the World Cup, Major

League Baseball, and the "priceless" ad campaign). She also heads an

e-commerce communications team, and reports to David Ruth, SVP of global


Aside from her commute, little else has been routine in Gamsin's


She began as one of the few women covering the OPEC Arab oil embargo

during the 1970s. Working for the Journal of Commerce, she rode shotgun

with oil ministers in Algiers, Bali, and Abu Dhabi to bring home


Extraordinary days continued as head of the press office at the New York

Stock Exchange when the market crashed in October, 1987. Then, while

head of communications at SmithKlineBeecham, Gamsin led a recall of 20

million bottles of Lucozade, Europe's Gatorade equivalent (glass bottles

of the drink were breaking due to a manufacturing problem).

"If you look back at my career," she says, "people tease me that someone

put that ancient Chinese curse on me: 'May you live in interesting

times.' I've been very lucky in having a career that has put me squarely

in the middle of some very exciting, difficult, challenging

issue-management situations."

For her crisis response at the NYSE, she credits success to years of

preparation. "Crisis communications is about planning in advance, not

about what you do that day." Gamsin says she used a strong relationship

with senior management, the media, and her own communications team to

understand what was happening, and agree on an open and regular

communications media strategy. She arranged for John Phelan, then head

of the NYSE, to hold a press conference after the market had closed -

something that had never been done.

"I think it was the first time the networks carried a live broadcast

about an economic issue," says Gamsin. "We wanted people to see that

even though things were moving very quickly, that they were moving in an

orderly fashion. We communicated how the exchange systems were working

smoothly, that the men and women on the trading floor were maintaining

an orderly market, and that it wasn't a panic ."

Art Samansky, principal at the Samansky Group, was head of the

Securities Industries Association during the 1987 crash. "One of the

things that struck me at that time was her level of calmness," he says

of his 30-year friend. "The October crash of 1987 was, for a lot of

people, the first time they had ever seen anything like that. Forget the

number of points it had gone down; it was the first time a lot of people

had seen a real market drop."

Samansky calls it "a mark of Sharon" that she remains calm in all

situations, no matter how stressful they may appear. Gamsin says it's

the only way she can operate.

"You can't panic," she says. "I get stressed out when things are too

routine and I'm bored. A lot of my friends call me an adrenaline junkie.

I think in this business you need a little bit of that."

Gamsin certainly works in the right place for that. The park-like campus

of MasterCard is deceiving, she says, explaining the pace inside is no

different than the pressure-cooker environment of midtown Manhattan. "I

have never worked at a company with so many massive lawsuits," she


A Department of Justice antitrust suit last summer came back split, and

the company plans to appeal. A multibillion-dollar jury trial will go to

court next year. Gamsin and her 11-person staff must create white papers

on the legal defense position, debunk myths, media train attorneys,

prepare Q&A documents, and thoroughly understand the legal issues

surrounding the company's defense. Then Gamsin will attend court every

day of the trial and help publish a weekly litigation wrap-up

newsletter. It's little surprise, she says, that MasterCard's corporate

counsel teases her that she could probably pass the bar exam without

ever going to law school.

Back to that commute. Gamsin, who grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, says

she would consider moving closer to the MasterCard campus if she had a

family, but since she's single, she insists Manhattan can't be beat.

That said, she spent most of her summer fixing up her new house in the


"If you want to know what's really stressful," says the PR crisis whiz,

"try to get a plumber to return your calls and come to your house. Now

that's stress."


1971-1983: Various journalism jobs from The Journal of Commerce

(1971-1978) to Petroleum Information International (1981-1983)

1983-1985: Manager, media relations, NYSE

1985-1987: Managing director, speech and policy development, NYSE

1987-1992: VP, communications, NYSE

1992-1996: VP, corporate comms, SmithKlineBeecham

1997-1999: Marketing and comms consultant - Asia Pacific region, Merrill


1999-current: VP of global comms, MasterCard Intl

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