Ann Pope started her career in the Government Economic Service (GES) as an assistant economist (HEO) at BEIS's predecessor, the Department of Trade and Industry. She later joined the economics branch of the Office of Fair Trading, moving to a joint economist and delivery role when the OFT was reorganised to deal with the Competition Act 1998. She progressed to a Senior Director in the OFT and became our Senior Director of Antitrust when the CMA was created.
We interviewed Ann about her career so far, here’s what she had to say:
Do you remember your very first role in the civil service?
This is really testing my memory as you’re asking me to cast my mind back more than 30 years!
But yes, I can remember some details. I joined a Whitehall department as an assistant economist at a time when things were still quite old fashioned – no internet or email and in internal typed up memos I was addressed as Mrs Pope.
The whole set up was quite hierarchical and there was far less openness in terms of feedback and performance management. You normally only got told the rating you’d received in your end of year performance review and I remember my boss breaking the rules to show me a copy of what he had written!
That makes it sound rather grim but the people were nice and the work was really interesting. The section I was allocated to dealt with rather a miscellaneous set of issues but that brought a lot of variety to my work.
One of my first projects was analysing the Peacock report on the future of the BBC (still a hot topic today) – I was given a (hard) copy of the report and asked to estimate the elasticity of demand. I also had to do some proper spreadsheet number crunching on future demand for aircraft, which was fascinating. Finally, a small part of my role involved monitoring MMC price control remedies – I didn’t realise at that point that competition was going to be a big focus of my career.
What skills/experiences have you gained as a result of the Fast track programme?
I was a member of the GES which meant I moved roles on a regular basis during the first few years. It was through one of these rotations that I ended up at the OFT and found I really liked competition work. I also had access to regular training and was able to complete a funded masters degree at LSE – a great opportunity and one which definitely enhanced my skills. It was particularly useful undertaking this studying having worked for a while as I had a much better understanding of how I would be applying what I learnt.
What drew you to work at the CMA, and inspired you to excel?
I was originally allocated to the OFT as part of my GES training. I started in mergers and, even though my focus has been antitrust over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to work across many other aspects of the OFT/CMA’s activities including consumer and markets. There are three things which have kept me at the OFT/CMA for so long.
The first is the people.
Whenever people leave the CMA, they always say how much they will miss the talented and genuinely nice people they work with and that has definitely been my experience.
Secondly, I have benefited hugely from the ability to work flexibly. For many years, when my children were younger, I was able to work three days a week, which gave me a great balance between home and work.
And finally, it is the nature and quality of the work. I love working on cases where I am trying to make things better for consumers and where I feel I am making a difference. The cases are not easy, and they can last a long time, but it is hugely satisfying when we are successful in establishing that the law has been broken. I’ve also appreciated the fact that, even when I’ve worked part-time, I have always worked on interesting cases.
What has been the greatest challenge of your career?
It is hard to single out one thing. I’ve worked on lots of challenging cases with a lot of fire power on the other side and I’m constantly amazed at how every case raises issues which, despite my experience I have not come across before.
My current challenge is to continue to increase the number and pace of the CMA’s antitrust cases – it is proving to be one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced but I really enjoy trying to find ways to improve how we work. We’re currently looking at how we can use new technology to make it easier to deal with the huge number of documents we receive as evidence in our cases.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?
Get the balance right between self-belief and self-awareness. It’s good to be confident in your abilities but self-awareness is also important and helps you to improve your performance, so don’t ignore developmental feedback.
I’d also advise being generous in recognising the contribution of others. So much of what we do is a team effort and it’s important to give credit where it’s due. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice when needed. The best senior managers want their staff to succeed and are often very pleased to be asked to provide support and coaching to junior colleagues.
What are your greatest accomplishments?
I’ve been lucky enough to work on some cases which have made a real difference to consumers. I was the lead economist on a hard fought court case which resulted in supermarkets and other retailers being able to set their own prices for over-the-counter medicines. Previously prices were set by suppliers so there was no competition on price. As soon as the restriction was lifted, prices fell the next day.
More recently I was involved in a case where commitments were offered to the CMA, in a pharmaceutical case, which included a payment of £8m to the NHS to compensate them for harm caused by anticompetitive behaviour.
Outside of work, learning to play tennis at the age of 40 was a real accomplishment for me. I had always thought I wasn’t a sporty person, but I realised that, with a good coach and some practice, it is possible to learn new skills, whatever age you are. I’m not sure my tennis has improved much since then, but it continues to give me a lot of pleasure, as well as helping to keep me fit.
The ability to learn skills applies to the workplace too, and I try to encourage individuals in my teams to move outside their comfort zone and not to be held back by a lack of belief in themselves.
Did you have a mentor and how did this shape your career?
I have learnt a huge amount from various colleagues over the years, but there are two individuals who have had a significant impact earlier in my career. Funnily enough both are lawyers rather than economists. One is a barrister with whom I first worked many years ago on a major piece of litigation, and the other was my boss in the OFT. Both demonstrated confidence in my ability, listened to what I had to say and pushed me to realise my potential.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Probably to have a bit more self-belief and not be afraid to speak up. I was very shy when I was younger and always a bit hesitant to push my views forward.
Over the years I’ve learnt to overcome this.
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