Denis Lewin, head of Blue Coat, a 1,000-pupil C of E comprehensive in Coventry, was put forward by Denise Atcheson, his personal secretary for four years. She read about the award in the local paper. "It looked to be aimed entirely at industry, and I thought to myself that Denis is as good as any industry boss. How many of them have a personnel responsibility for an age range from 11 to 56? So I wrote off to the organisers, waxing lyrical."
Lyrical or not, her letter was persuasive enough to gain Mr Lewin a place in the finals. The qualities that she extolled included his sense of humour, his willingness to give his time ("he comes to every school disco even though he doesn't like them") his support for pupil initiatives, and his fair dealing with staff and pupils. "And he actually likes and believes in what he's doing. That comes over."
She nominated Mr Lewin without telling him - the first he knew about it was when he returned from holiday to find himself in the final. Nevertheless, his first reaction was one of "delight that my team have got such faith in me".
Mr Lewin did not take top honours - that went to Kathy Scholfield, a banking executive from Windsor - but he and Mrs Atcheson were delighted with the experience of being at the finals day, to which they also took the school's head boy and girl. The other finalists were all from the business world. "I think we actually caught them a bit by surprise, they hadn't really recognised that education was big business," says Mr Lewin. "I was able to put a few of them in the picture about that.
"The world of education has not been given credit for the work that it does, and I regard myself as trying to highlight the fact that the country depends on a quality education service." His finalist's silver cup now graces his desk, and at half term he and his wife took up their prize of a weekend in a country hotel.
The award's sponsors, impressed by what one of them called "Denis Lewin's fine example" would like to encourage more entries from education. Next year's competition will be announced in the summer edition of Executive PA, but anyone interested can write for an entry form to Executive PA, 175-179 St John Street, London EC1V 4RP.