Each month we focus on the work and interests of either a regulator or an in-house counsel. This month we interviewed Ann Pope, Senior Director (Antitrust) of the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
What does your career look like to date?
I began my career as a member of the Government Economic Service, working in what was then the Department of Trade and Industry (now the Department of Business). After a couple of years in central government I went on loan to the OFT - Office of Fair Trading - where I was advising on competition cases. I found that I really enjoyed competition work and I ended up staying for a long time, eventually moving to the Competition and Markets Authority when the OFT and the Competition Commission were merged.
For several years I worked as an Economic Adviser on a wide range of cases including newspapers, pharmaceuticals and financial services, but over time, and as I progressed within the OFT, my focus moved to leading teams to deliver enforcement cases. I am now responsible for the CMA’s ‘antitrust’ portfolio which comprises our Competition Act investigations other than the most hard-core ‘cartels’. We currently have nine live investigations and we are also defending a major infringement decision which the parties are appealing against.
Unlike most people at the CMA, I have stayed in the OFT/CMA for most of my career. This is because, when I had my children, I was able to work part-time at the OFT and achieve a work/life balance which suited me really well. I had a very stimulating job, doing interesting work, and I was also able to spend time with my family. I never felt like I was standing still or carrying on with the same job as I was constantly facing new challenges, developing my knowledge and skills, as well as progressing to more senior roles. This experienced has continued into my current role, where I face the significant challenge of increasing the number and pace of the CMA’s Competition Act cases.
What does a normal day at work look like?
There isn’t really a normal day and my plans often get changed because something unexpected comes up. My diary usually contains a variety of meetings on cases in the antitrust portfolio. These range from internal discussions with the antitrust teams, talking about the evidence they have gathered and our assessment of the strength of a case, and also external meetings with parties under investigation, or perhaps with potential complainants who want us to investigate their concerns. I also have various internal management meetings to discuss issues such as resourcing, strategy and leadership. Outside of meetings, my time is often spent reviewing documents, including draft Statements of Objections and decisions. The work is challenging, very interesting and rewarding, plus I work with some great colleagues.
What has been the most interesting case you’ve worked on recently?
I find all the cases I work on really interesting and am always surprised at how new issues and challenges emerge even though I have been working on the Competition Act since it came into force in 2000. A recent highlight was the ‘pay-for-delay’ pharmaceuticals investigation, where the CMA fined GlaxoSmithKline and certain generic drugs companies £45m for infringing competition law for an arrangement under which GSK by made payments and other value transfers aimed at delaying the potential entry of generic competitors into the UK market for the anti-depressant drug paroxetine. We worked on this case for some time in the OFT and the CMA, and it is not yet over as the parties have appealed against the CMA’s decision and we are working towards a hearing at the Competition Appeal Tribunal in February next year. The CMA has a number of other health sector related investigations, which represent an important part of our portfolio of cases.
We have also recently issued two infringement decisions involving online ‘resale price maintenance’, in the bathroom fittings and catering equipment sectors. Resale price maintenance is the practice of a supplier limiting the right of its distributors or retailers to discount prices (in these cases, through online sales channels). These cases are important for clarifying how competition law applies in an online world and for ensuring that consumers are able to get the full benefits of online competition. Equally important is ensuring that we follow up such cases to help businesses understand how they may be at risk of breaking competition law, especially when it involves more modern and digital ways of selling. To achieve this, we invest in our communications activity at end of cases to raise awareness amongst businesses, targeting relevant sectors and audiences with clear messages so they know how to comply with the law.
What advice would you give to someone who was looking to join the CMA?
The CMA is a very rewarding place to work, providing an opportunity to get involved in a wide range of interesting and challenging cases and working alongside highly talented and committed colleagues. We also value diversity, not least because it gives us a variety of different perspectives and experiences which go into the mix of our thinking. We have a range of jobs available and details of current vacancies can be found on our website, along with lots of information about our work and our aims and objective. This is a great source of material to help prepare for applications and interviews and I’d advise anyone hoping to join us to spend some time familiarising themselves with some of our recent cases and our Annual Plan.
Are there any new issues coming to the forefront in competition law regulation? If so, how are you dealing with these?
Competition Act investigations constantly throw up new issues but one we are currently grappling with is applying competition law to online markets and new technology-based business models. Competition from this kind of innovation offers consumers greater choice, innovative products and services and the prospect of prices becoming more competitive. Established businesses often feel under threat from these new alternatives and may be tempted to react to innovation in a way which stifles competition. Competition law can be used to good effect in these situations but we need to ensure that we intervene appropriately and do not inadvertently disrupt the competitive process ourselves by being too heavy-handed or prescriptive. I envisage this being an increasing challenge over the years ahead but it is one we are ready to respond to.
Tell us a little known fact about yourself.
I am a huge tennis fan and am hoping over the next few years to visit a number of major tournaments. I’ve managed Wimbledon and the US Open so far but still have a few to go.