"The smiling assassin" is the nickname bestowed on David Normington, who was appointed permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment last week.
The 49-year-old has spent more than half his life as a civil servant. He joined the Department of Employment in 1973, moving into education when the departments merged in 1995.
For the past three years, he has been director general of schools, a post he has described as a "wonderful job". He played a central role in the drive to raise standards in schools and to reform the teaching profession. But he has been criticised for increasing teachers' workload and red tape.
Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, who knows Mr Normington from his schools work, described him as "civilised and urbane, with a beaming smile - but underneath he is a tough nut".
Mr Normington stepped in as acting permanent secretary after Sir Michael Bichard was hospitalised with kidney problems last year.
Sir Michael, 54, is retiring after the general election and is to become rector of the London Institute in September.
Known as "Bichard's Enforcer", Mr Normington is expected to continue Sir Michael's work of modernising the department. He will take over as a new government and a new ministerial team arrives. He also inherits the problem of sorting out equal opportunities and academic pay in the country's universities and colleges.
Mr Normington was raised in Bradford and won a scholarship to Bradford Grammar School before going to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he gained a first-class degree in modern history. He is married - to the head of the European Union division at the DFEE - and lists his hobbies as gardening, theatre, ballet and cricket.