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
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
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