RT: You have worked across multiple countries in Europe and in diverse sectors ranging from tobacco, technology, logistics, automobile and now travel. Which sector is the most challenging and why?
EAY: If you look at this question purely from the sector perspective, then tobacco is by far the most complex sector for a communications professional. Communicating about a company that makes a product that kills people is an incredible challenge and I learned a lot from working with the professionals at PMI.
RT: Tell us more about the book – Women in PR that you co-authored earlier this year?
EAY: It was great to collaborate with Professor Ana Adi who is not only a titan in the field of communications research but is also my good friend. I am passionate about the topic of diversity and inclusion and now in my current role, where I am responsible for sustainability, I am able to influence how my company addresses this key topic. I am a mom, a wife, and a “woman in PR” and it was great to be in contact with so many practitioners and academicians, who are engaging in this field.
RT: What is the one achievement in your glorious career in corporate communications that stands out for you?
EAY: I can’t answer with just one achievement! In the past 18 months, I have been faced with two huge challenges that are unparalleled in my career. The first was when I was leading marketing and communications at Panalpina, a top five global Freight Forwarder. In 2019, the company was unexpectedly purchased by DSV, a competitor. I was at the time responsible for Investor Relations as well as Corporate Communications and needed to manage the initial defense with an activist investor. Then, once the purchase was announced, I managed the transition communications including the internal communications for the period between April and August 2019. After the deal was completed, I helped the new CEO with the integration communications until I left the organisation along with most of the management team. The second big challenge for me—as well as for most communications professionals—has been managing the COVID crisis. I began my new role at SITA the day that the company went into quarantine and work-from-home mode. The speed of change and the intense need for a new internal communications framework to support the company added to the stress of a totally new job and new team! Both of these experiences—M&A and COVID —have forever shaped me as a communications professional and a team leader.
RT: Having taught at various universities in the early part of your career, which would you prefer if you had to start all over again – academia or the corporate world, and why?
EAY: I loved studying at university. I went to Stanford in the 1990s at a time when people were dropping out to start companies like Google … yet I stayed and got not only a BA but also continued to do my MA and PhD in medieval history at UCLA. My graduate research had me travel to Paris where I worked in the archives nationales looking at legal documents (mostly trial transcripts) from the 15th century. I would never give up the intellectual challenge of getting a proper “humanistic” education that included reading Latin, history, philosophy and literature. However, towards the end of my degree, I realised that whilst I loved research, I didn’t want to limit myself to one topic for the rest of my life and I was not terribly keen on teaching—I yearned for more breadth in my intellectual pursuits. I also realised that I wanted to have a career where I interacted with people and worked in teams, rather than be alone in the library all day. This is why, towards the end of my PhD, I took an internship at UNESCO, which eventually turned into a job in communications and set me on the path that I am today. I hope one day soon to go back to teach as an adjunct professor in addition to my “day job” because I love the mix of intellectual pursuits and practical ones.
RT: What should the communication professional look forward to in 2021?
EAY: I am usually an “Energiser Bunny” type of person… I just keep going, and going, and going … I hope for my sake and that of my colleagues that we find a vaccine early in 2021 and that things begin to get back to normal a bit.
Dr Edna Ayme-Yahil is Senior Director & Head of Communications, Brand & Sustainability at SITA. She is a Keynote Speaker at SPECTRA.
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