Group finance director, General Healthcare Group.

Salary: over£100k

Eugene Hayes, 44, took up the post in December 1997 when General Healthcare Group was created from the merger of two groups: the BMI Healthcare, BMI Health Services and Partnerships in Care Group; and Amicus Healthcare Group. He now controls the finance for the largest UK independent acute hospital provider. The group, with a turnover of£400m, has 42 acute hospitals, 11 psychiatric hospitals and two nursing homes. Up to 750,000 patients a year go through its doors.

What was your career path?

I joined the independent healthcare sector 10 years ago as group finance and commercial director of Compass Healthcare Group. In 1989, I joined a management buyout to form Amicus Healthcare. After the merger to form General Healthcare Group, I became group finance director. Previously, I had worked in the Middle East in the catering and support services industry. I qualified as an accountant in my home country, Ireland, and had three years' professional practice and six years in banking in Dublin.

What first attracted you to, and kept you in, the independent healthcare sector?

I moved to Compass Healthcare Group because it was growing and there was a commitment to investment. The healthcare business sucks you in: you are working with dedicated professional staff who believe passionately in what they are doing and who deal with human bodies and human life. I'd hate to work in an industry making widgets.

Describe your current job

On the board of the three companies in the group (acute, psychiatric and health services) and of the group as a whole. Ensuring the efficient running of the finance function. Line manager for 20 to 25 central finance staff, with functional responsibility for others at regional and unit level. Planning and monitoring business performance, and reporting back internally, and externally to the banks and venture capitalists. Ensuring capital resources are used effectively and make a return for investors while meeting the quality needs of doctors and patients. Providing an appropriate environment of control and freedom which encourages both initiative and professional excellence.

How many hours a week do you work?

About 55.

What was the biggest challenge of the past year?

The merger's aftermath: managing the cultural and financial integration of the two, including setting up new reporting structures and financial systems.

What challenges and cost pressures do you face in the year ahead?

Probably not much different from the public healthcare sector. A major challenge will be increased regulation - which I totally support - in the wake of the Bristol tragedy. The public and private sector should be subject to the same regulation framework, but this will increase bureaucracy. Others include increasing consumer expectations and staffing - recruitment problems and the push on nurses' salaries.

How do you keep budgetary control?

Budgets are set at departmental level. Budget holders are monitored and awarded bonuses if they meet specific financial and quality targets.

Do you see the NHS as a competitor?

We have competition from local providers, including the NHS, for acute and psychiatric services.

What aspects of your job do you most enjoy?

Bringing good capital proposals to fruition, and visiting the hospitals themselves, which I enjoy enormously, to get a better understanding of the activity and problems at the sharp end.

Which parts would you happily do without?

People exaggerating their needs, or not being open, to get what they want. It makes the decision- making process harder.

How do you unwind?

Watching football. I'm currently a Tottenham season ticket holder. I attempt to keep fit and I like going out to restaurants and the theatre.

Has your career gone as planned?

No. I could never have envisaged the sell-offs, management buyouts and company mergers that took me into my present job. But I wouldn't change it. I enjoy the company and the industry.

Were there any major turning points?

Leaving Ireland and getting the appropriate international experience. If you can do business in Saudi Arabia, you can do it anywhere.

What's the hardest thing you've had to do at work?

Dispelling the image of the financial director as someone who is only interested in profits and short-termism. It is vital to be seen as an enabler and not as a block to meeting quality needs.

What has been the high point?

Playing a part in shaping the market and being the quality leader.

If you hadn't gone into the independent healthcare sector, what might you have done?

Hopefully, I'd have won the lottery. I sometimes think it would be lovely supporting worthwhile investments.

Where would you like to be in five years' time?

It's difficult to predict, but I'd expect to be continuing to grow this business.

Could you ever see yourself working in the NHS?

I wouldn't have a problem with it. I think it is possible and desirable for finance directors to move between the two sectors and hopefully I have some skills which would be useful there.