Paul Mackney, West Midlands regional official and thorn in the flesh of many principals, will become NATFHE general secretary after a resounding victory in which union treasurer and favourite Vicky Seddon was beaten into second place.
When the five-horse race started in October for the post left vacant by the ousted John Akker, Roger Ward, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, admitted Mackney was the candidate he most feared.
Mr Mackney wants national pay bargaining to return and to end the practice of using agency workers in colleges - a cause Mr Ward personally championed by promoting Education Lecturing Services.
Weeks before the leadership race started, Mr Mackney brokered a ground-breaking deal for adult education staff in Leicestershire. "It's our alternative to the ELS agency," he insisted.
Part-timers had permanent contracts while agreeing to accept the possible loss of a third of their teaching hours "eliminating the need for agencies, while preserving part-timers' employment rights".
In his first pitch for the post last May, he criticised the union's leadership in an interview with The TES. "The absence of national strategic leadership within has meant that few people now listen to what it has to say. Any new general secretary will have to work hard to ensure that NATFHE regains credibility as the principal union for the new university and college lecturers."
This week, he pledged to "modernise the union without jettisoning the principles on which it is built". He is seeking an urgent meeting for a new start with employers and wants a partnership with other unions, with sharing of common services.
Results: Paul Mackney (4,872), Vicky Seddon (3,446), Fawzi Ibrahim (2, 737 votes), Andree Keneally (1,730), Kate Heasman (1,701). Transfer of votes to two highest scorers resulted in Mackney beating Seddon 7,376 to 5,084). Turnout 24 per cent.