In our occasional series profiling people in contrasting roles, Ann Dix quizzes two finance directors - one in a whole-service trust, the other in a PCT

Richard Quinton Director of finance, Isle of Wight Healthcare trust (2,700 staff, serving population of 130,000) Age: 52 Salary:£60,000 Budget:£82m

I'm very lucky to have a wide range of responsibilities - not only finance, but also I&IT and supplies. This in the context of working for the only whole-service trust in England makes life very interesting.

I joined the NHS four years ago after a career in commerce. My first job after qualifying as an accountant was at Price Waterhouse. While in charge of an audit of Selfridges, they asked me to join them as a management accountant. Two years later I became group chief accountant, before joining a reincarnation of fashion retailer Biba as group finance director. I returned to the Lewis's/Selfridges Group in 1980.

I was very lucky to get a job as finance director of Carrefour in March 1986. Following acquisitions and mergers by owners the Dee Corporation we went from 1,000 stores to around 680, with a turnover of£3.6bn. Three years later I was involved with a management buy-in in a hostile, but successful, takeover for Dee, by then called the Gateway Corporation. I stayed as finance director, but trading became very difficult and the banks that had provided over£2.2bn for the buyout were not happy. Things went from bad to worse and I left in 1990. After five years as a management consultant, I asked a friend who runs a recruitment agency for a job and he pointed me to the Isle of Wight and St Mary's trust. I became finance director in March 1996, and just over six months later was appointed to my current job in the merged community and acute trust.

The island is a lovely place to work. The fact that the acute trust had not balanced its books since 1993-94 was a major challenge.

Seeing members of my team progress, getting their qualifications, promotion and enjoying the job. When I joined the merged trust, very few were qualified. Now over half of finance staff are at least part-qualified.

The fact that in the NHS there is not enough time to do everything that is necessary - prioritising the priorities is a daily affair.

Obviously the most important new initiative is the NHS plan. We have had a trust modernisation action team for three months and the plan gives us the opportunity to re-engineer parts of our service. This alone will take large parts of my time.

However, Partnership in Action, financial services for the new PCT on the island and a new health authority are all extra projects to the day job.

I have found the challenge of bringing the trust back to break-even very exacting, and the achievement of the past two years - meeting all financial duties, waiting-list duties etc - has been very satisfying. But one of the best days of my life was walking back into my job after our successful management takeover of Gateway.

There have been two. The first was in 1978 as finance director of the reincarnated Biba in London. A family based in Iran owned it and provided all the investment. We had major plans to develop the business and significant sums were being ploughed into the first store. One day I had a call from the owner to say that they no longer had any funds to put into the company. I had planned to ask for£400,000 that day and needed the cash to pay the creditors. I had just five days to negotiate facilities with our bankers. The second was when, during a particularly fraught period of my business life, I discovered my telephone was being tapped and my bins searched.

Having to stand up in front of over 100 men in a warehouse that had been operating for well over 50 years and tell them that they were being made redundant and the warehouse closed.

Really only when I am on holiday. I love to go to France or Italy and get away from the telephone.

However, I recently joined a sports club and am now swimming at least twice a week.

Aged 12, I wanted to be a banker. Two years later a discussion with an uncle persuaded me to become an accountant. So I think I will stick with being an accountant (or a photographer! ).

I really hope to still be the trust's finance director, having successfully re-engineered services and so be providing excellent patient care to the island.

Yes, of course. I have no doubt that we shall see substantial developments within PCTs in the next few years.

Chris Marshall Director of finance and performance South Peterborough primary care trust (200-plus staff, covering a population of 94,000 in 14 practices). Age: 45 Salary:£45-55,000 Budget:£52m

Mine is a board-level post and I provide financial support and advice to both the board and the executive committee. I also lead on commissioning services and performance management. As one of only two executive directors my focus is wider than finance. The primary care group/trust development work has been against a background of a new HA.

The PCT expects a population increase of some 15,000-plus over the next five years alone.

I joined the NHS straight from school in 1973, my first post being a statistics clerk at Northampton General Hospital. The following year I became an accounts clerk in the finance department. After a series of day releases, distance learning and timeouts, I qualified in 1990 with the Assocation of Chartered Certified Accountants.

In 1986 I moved to Peterborough HA, becoming deputy finance director of North West Anglia HA in April 1992. I started working with two Peterborough shadow PCGs in July 1998 before being appointed to my current position in January 1999.

The opportunity to get closer to the coal face and to get a board appointment without uprooting.

The development of a new organisation and systems that work and improve services.

Dismantling organisations and systems. During my career I have seen the service change more or less every three to five years. While change is inevitable, evolution would be preferred to revolution.

Where do I start? As a first-wave PCT we need to demonstrate early success in primary care development, joint working with local authorities, developing care pathways and quality assurance as well as implementing the NHS plan. We have the opportunity to develop 'green field' services and new ways of doing things, but this needs to be balanced against the expansion of services needed to accommodate the population increase.

Iam not sure there is any one moment, but the move to Peterborough was a bit of a watershed after 12 years as an office junior.

It was a two-grade promotion for me in a new place, and I was put straight into the commissioning team of a brand-new hospital.

Dismantling successful teams as a result of service re-organisations has always been difficult when you cannot offer people you have worked with for years the certainty they seek or guarantee them a job at the end. This was particularly difficult during the development of the PCG/T and the HA reconfiguration, as they got out of synch.

In my current job, chairing a disciplinary panel that culminated in the summary dismissal of a long-serving community nurse. An example of the wider corporate role of the post.

I moved house about six years ago and gained a larger piece of ground. Turning this into a garden has been a good way to unwind. I also play badminton and run a taxi service for the children.

I considered teaching before I found myself in the NHS.

With the family and children settled and in a good school, probably still here in Peterborough. I would hope to be able to look back and see that we have made a difference within this new organisation and can continue to do so.

No. I like working for smaller organisations so that I can get in and understand everything.