Our weekly guide to healthcare's most influential people

Name: Professor Joan Higgins

Job: Director, Manchester centre for healthcare management

Style: 'Down to earth' career academic, who seems to have chaired half the health service - currently, It is the National Treatment Agency for substance misuse. A brief sojourn as chair of North West region ended abruptly when the job was axed in the NHS plan. 'It is right to abolish it, ' she wrote, adding: 'I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Although white-water rafting would have seemed tame by comparison.'

Described as 'very nice', she is 'softly spoken' and 'approachable', with a good sense of humour. Has the respect of colleagues - even one or two who have had a run-in with her.

And she's the first woman president of the European Healthcare Management Association.

Background: Apart from a stint in 1969-70 as a hospital social work assistant, It is been academia all the way. She was a lecturer at Portsmouth Poly, and set up Southampton University's institute of health policy studies, becoming its director in 1986. Moved to Manchester University - where rumour has it she was once turned down as an undergraduate student - as professor of health policy in 1992. Her non-exec NHS career has paralleled her academic one, though she says: 'I can't think of two organisations that are more different.' Was a board member in Southampton and at Wessex RHA, later chairing Manchester HA before heading for the regional office.

Future prospects: Lots more policy, and advice: she's a member of the advisory committees on resource allocation and merit awards. Look out for her, too, in the field of board development and non-exec training, especially in primary care trusts.