Chant brings fresh management style: Ros Hepplewhite's resignation yesterday heralds sweeping changes at the embattled Child Support Agency - Martin Whitfield on the woman who rose from counter clerk to agency head

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The Independent Online
IN management jargon, Ann Chant 'walks the job'. She visits as many offices as possible and talks to cleaners and cooks, not just managers and supervisors.

She also hates management jargon and has a reputation for plain speaking.

Joining the National Assistance Board in 1963 on leaving school, Miss Chant, 49, has been in the Civil Service for 31 years. She has done virtually every job in the Social Security department from counter clerk to her current post as head of the Contributions Agency responsible for 7,500 people and revenue generation of pounds 32bn.

Although she became the first chief executive of the Contributions Agency with a salary of about pounds 60,000 when it was formed in 1991, she is no fan of hierarchy, status and image. Her first official car was a red Ford Orion.

Born in Blackpool, Miss Chant is said to retain enough northern warmth to make staff feel at ease. She has even persuaded senior managers at the huge Contributions Agency headquarters in Newcastle to wear fancy dress on open days.

'She is very practical and down to earth and can see things from how they affect people,' said one person with close working contact.

Miss Chant is unmarried with no children. She travels extensively from her base in Newcastle and is said to have a strong sense of humour.

Following the experience of her own career, she is patron of the Industrial Society's Administrative Development Campaign, designed to make organisations recognise the undervalued skills of secretaries and receptionists.

Miss Chant is said to be still smarting from the humiliation of callers asking to be put through to her boss when she was a senior private secretary in the Department of Social Security, she has been keen to encourage women to develop their careers.

When she was appointed as chief executive, Miss Chant was one of just three women to head the 67 executive agencies in the Civil Service. She said then that she wanted to be seen as the 'approachable face of the DSS'.

(Photographs omitted)