The Business On... Heidi Mottram, chief executive, Northumbrian Water

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The Independent Online

The woman in charge of the Tyne?

Well, sort of. Northumbria does indeed supply water and sewage services in the North-east, though it also supplies customers in the South-east through its Essex & Suffolk Water business. Ms Mottram is doing rather well – the company said yesterday that profits and sales were running ahead of expectations. Also, environmental standards continue to improve – the Tyne, for example, is cleaner than it has been in decades – and despite the dry spell, there are no plans for any supply restrictions this summer.

So is Ms Mottram a water industry veteran?

Far from it. She got the job in April last year having worked in the rail industry ever since university. She's the first woman to take charge at one of Britain's big water companies and, at 46, is younger than most other FTSE 250 bosses too.

Why did Northumbrian want a rail executive?

She had an excellent reputation as the boss of Northern Rail, which is the UK's biggest train operating company, picking up a string of awards, including an OBE. The "Tell Heidi" initiative she ran at the company, encouraging staff to bring their concerns and ideas to her, has been widely copied. Northumbrian, meanwhile, hasn't always enjoyed the best reputation for service and openness, so Ms Mottram was the ideal candidate.

She's not a train spotter then?

She joined British Rail as a management trainee in 1986, having failed to get a grant for a postgraduate course that would have qualified her as a National Parks ranger. Still, she thrived in the role, winning plaudits early on for the way in which she dealt with the derailment of a parcels train at Leeds station. She also made the transition very successfully following privatisation, holding down progressively more senior roles at GNER, Midland Mainline and Arriva.

And when she's not plugging all those leaks?

Yorkshire born and bred, you might find her in her holiday cottage in Whitby.