From its base in Weybridge, Surrey, Sony employs 1,500 people including 900 sales staff who drive for work.
Ms Slater, health, safety and environmental executive, soon realised that the company wasn’t living up to its duty of care obligations.
She explains: “A few years ago we had nothing apart from checking drivers’ licences.
“I realised there was more to it than that. We needed to ensure that someone could actually drive the vehicle we were giving them. We weren’t telling them about any of the safety-related issues that we would tell people sitting at their desks and using computers – so we decided to do something about it.”
Ms Slater tasked the company’s leasing company, ING, with finding a driver training package that fitted in with Sony’s way of thinking.
“I didn’t want something off the shelf, I wanted something innovative and dynamic,” she says.
“It’s very difficult to sell health and safety training to staff. Everyone says it is stopping them doing their job, not enabling them to do their job more safely.”
ING suggested Ms Slater check out Ultimate Car Control (UCC), a relatively new addition to the driver training industry and with a different approach to the more traditional on-road training schools.
Run by former British Touring Car champion Robb Gravett, UCC adopts an off-road training element, incorporating ABS and ESP experiences, alongside classroom theory sessions.
After discussing Sony’s needs with several training suppliers, Ms Slater decided that UCC was her preferred choice, but she wanted to come up with a new way to encourage staff to want to take extra training.
“We talked to UCC about how we could deliver the solution even further and we came up with the idea of a competition,” she says.
“Sony is a very competitive company and so are our sales-people. It had to be fun and really get somebody’s interest.”
It was decided that creating a competitive element would create an atmosphere in which staff wanted to do well and take part. So UCC devised a system bespoke to Sony’s requirements.
UCC’s corporate sales director Steve Heine says: “We said we would target 240 drivers because we’d allocated 10 days and can only do a certain amount at a time.We decided to name a driver of the day each day and they would qualify for the final.
“There would also be two wild card entries.”
One criticism of competition in driver training is that it only appeals to those who enjoy driving – those with no interest are put off. Mr Heine says ability doesn’t come into it: “The winners were not necessarily the best drivers – they were the most improved.”
Before taking part, Sony’s staff completed an online road safety questionnaire as part of its existing health and safety package, the results of which gave an idea of the high-risk drivers.
“The majority were high risk because of their age, the amount of time they had been driving and their mileage,” Ms Slater says.
It was the high risk drivers who were targeted by the competition.
“Sony has the process in motion and has started with the high risk drivers so the audit trail is there should anything go wrong.”
Teaser adverts appeared in internal communications, asking staff “Could YOU be Sony’s driver of the year?”.
The training has taken place at UCC’s headquarters, shared with the Transport Research Laboratory in Berkshire, and the final day is due to take place later this month.
That day will reinforce the training already given out, and also include a more fun element, possibly with some more performance-oriented cars.
The most improved drivers at the end of the competition can expect some serious prizes, including the use of a Mercedes-Benz SLK for the weekend, a Sony home theatre systetm and a five-star weekend break for two in Europe. But Ms Slater hasn’t revealed the prizes to staff yet – and take-up has been impressive nonetheless.