Name: Stephen Thornton Job: Chief executive, NHS Confederation Style: Was asked to leave school because - young leader in the making - he stood firm and refused to shave off his beard. But recently modernised his chin in clean-shaven Milburn-like style. A keen Baptist - and (a mole tells us) a friend of top spy Stella Rimmington. Modernisation board member, usually tipped for any senior NHS job going.

Education: Sneaked back to school and passed A-levels.

Degree in politics and modern history. Attended Cabinet Office top management programme.

Background: Rose to fame as chief exec of Cambridge and Huntingdon HA. Hit the front pages in 1995 as Mr Healthcare Rationing when the HA decided not to fund unproven leukaemia treatment in the notorious 'Child B' case. Stepped into the shoes of Phillip 'Lord'Hunt as Confed chief exec in 1997, just in time to oversee its budget crisis - AKA 'NHS 50th anniversary celebrations'. Six months later, the entire top management team quit.

Profile: On the rise. Mr Thornton has picked the Confed up and dusted it down after a rocky start. Influence with ministers has improved since a run-in with Frank Dobson's minder, Joe McCrea. 'It is a government that will think nothing of phoning me at home at seven in the morning and arm-twisting me back on message, 'he said then. Well- judged interventions into NHS plannery have done much for the Confed - and its chief 's reputation.

Future prospects: One of those top jobs he's tipped for - although Nigel Crisp's already pipped him to the top of the lot. Surely too young to become Lord Thornton of Cambridge and Huntingdon just yet.