NEWSMAKER: Navigating by stars - Siun Cranny, Chief executive, Sargent Cancer Care for Children

Annie Kelly

Siun Cranny believes she was made for the job of charity chief executive.

She positively oozes contentment as she talks about her love of managing her team at Sargent Cancer Care for Children, and plotting its course through the treacherous waters of public fundraising.

"Since I joined Sargent there has literally not been one moment when I have thought I should be anywhere else," she says.

Surprising as it may be that someone appears to genuinely love their nine-to-five job, Cranny puts much of it down to starting late and a "series of moments of clarity" that led her to Sargent's door.

She initially set out to be a researcher and, in order to fund an MSc in psychology, started doing a bit of social work at Enfield Social Services.

But instead of merely supplementing her studies, Cranny says that the work opened up a new future for her.

"It was all a bit of a shock," she says. "I'd had my heart set on going into academia, and it was difficult to get my head around the fact that life was telling me to go in a completely new direction."

It all came down to realising that she was essentially a team player - a realisation sparked by her next job as head of care at St Christopher's Fellowship, a project for abused children in Hampstead, North London.

It was there that she saw how teams of individuals with different skills worked together towards a common goal.

This, combined with what Cranny calls the "buzz" of using one's time to achieve things for others, meant her path was set. Although she quickly moved to the RNID, where the charity helped fund the completion of her MSc, she says that her time in the public sector gave her a good grounding and developed her personal vision of good leadership.

"I came into social services at a time when it was really difficult to get on," she says. "There were lots of issues bubbling away, with lots of young staff leaving and a general feeling of discontentment that nobody was being recognised for what they were doing. I saw the voluntary sector as a more organic environment where it would be possible to get the best out of people."

Although she tends to fall into management-speak, talking of staff as "strategic achievers" and of "maximising people-potential", Cranny obviously sees her responsibilities as motivating and developing her growing staff base. She has implemented leadership training programmes across the organisation and encourages young employees to contribute ideas about how the charity should move forward.

She applies the same methods to her development of Sargent's work and public profile. She doesn't see herself as being in competition with the cancer charity "big boys", but thinks that Sargent occupies a niche that complements the services offered by other organisations such as Marie Curie and Macmillan.

"OK, yes, there's an element of competition in fundraising, but we're not here to launch new research or train nurses, we're here to provide support and care to children with cancer and their families," she says.

"Quite often, hospitals can't do more than offer a diagnosis and send families on their way. Our work is all about maintaining childhood in the face of this terrible disease, and giving kids the mechanisms to cope with their own experience of cancer."

And she is in the enviable position of leading a charity that is popular among the media and celebrities including Sting and Hugh Grant, and a regular name on the back pages of Hello! magazine.

Cranny admits that many other charities would kill for similar patronage by the celebrity world, but is now looking to move the charity on from its 'glitterati' image. "It's great to be a popular charity, and our celebrity supporters and celebrity events have got the charity to where it is today," she says. "But I'm aware that if you become too associated with a world that for most people doesn't exist outside of newspapers and magazines, people stop seeing you as a cause that also needs their £5 a month."

"When people hear the name Sargent Cancer Care for Children, I don't want them to think of a glamorous celebrity event, I want them to think 'my God, what would happen if my child got diagnosed?', and recognise that we would be there for them."

2004 will see programmes developed that appeal to a broad section of the general public. Regional groups and local activity will complement high-value donor and celebrity activity in an effort to grow Sargent's influence outside London. Cranny will also oversee the roll-out of a membership programme across the UK that she hopes will expand regular giving and legacy income.

She sees this as the only way that Sargent will be able to grow to its full capacity and take its place as an influential children's charity with the ability to push through large-scale change. Her goal for the charity is to give every child diagnosed with cancer their own support plan to help them come to terms with the disease.

And when asked whether she has plans to move on, Cranny beams and asks why she would want to be anywhere else. "We're only just beginning - I'm not going anywhere when it's so exciting to come here every day.

"I love sailing and I often think of management the way I think of a crew manning a boat. When you've got a skipper and a crew all properly working as a team, you get to the point where you can leave the helm and the boat sails perfectly anyway. When this happens you realise that the boat is perfectly tuned, and then you can think about going faster.

"We're at that point now, and I'm really looking forward to the next part of the journey."


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