Profile: Nest builder - Maxine Taylor, executive director of policy and comms, Cancer Research UK

With cancer affecting one in three people at some stage in their lives, no disease has a firmer grip on the attention of the public, government and media alike. Smoking bans, healthy eating, the cost of medical treatment and funding for research are issues near the top of the media agenda, placing Cancer Research UK at the heart of debate.

Into its top comms role this April steps Maxine Taylor - a woman with both the all-round experience and temperament to handle the attention.

A founding director of Consolidated Communications, Taylor has worked the halls of the Cabinet Office, led the comms function of another top UK charity and maintained the UK profile of one of the world's biggest drugs firms.

She has a string of stories of job interviews in which her blunt and challenging style has allowed her to push her career in new directions.

'In communications the right thing to do is move jobs regularly and keep your thinking fresh,' says Taylor, reclining on the couch at her country house in Godalming in Surrey.

'I always said that if this job came up I would have to look at it. There is the whole emotional attachment (Taylor lost her stepfather to cancer) and it's got the "get you out of bed" factor to it. It could never be boring,' she explains.

Even in the relaxed comfort of her home, Taylor, 45, displays the energy and conviction that she needed at Eli Lilly to deal with a media often sceptical about the motives of drug firms.

'The media have a very important job to make sure the public are aware of health issues and I've always tried to be accessible, respond to questions and get out and meet journalists,' says Taylor, who once harboured ambitions to become a broadcast journalist.

'For people working at pharma firms, to see some of the things written in the media can be quite a shock,' she says, saying there is a 'complete disconnection' between the good intentions of the industry and public perception, 'the pharma industry could go and hide, but there is a lot to be proud of'.

While she admits she is upfront when occasion warrants, Taylor says she is 'not militant'. A lifelong non-smoker thrust into a position at the heart of the anti-smoking debate, Taylor believes her role is more to educate the public about the dangers of smoking than aggressively to force change. 'The Government has done a lot of good work (on the smoking issue) and it's 95 per cent of the way there,' she says.

'She's a tough cookie,' confirms Taylor's former boss at Lilly, Stephen Whitehead, now director of group corporate affairs at Allied Domecq.

He says Taylor is a classic ally-builder - critical in times of need - and has exceptional knowledge of the workings of government. 'Maxine can come across as quite assertive but she's also a nest builder and is very nurturing. She gets the best out of her team,' he adds.

Under Taylor, Lilly twice won the best in-house team accolade at the Communique healthcare awards, success she will be keen to replicate at Cancer Research, one of Britain's biggest and widest recognised charities, where she will manage a 100-strong team.

The cosy environs of Taylor's country house, lorded over by Willum - an enormous 15-year-old cat who lurks about like a nonchalant panther - attest to the 'nesting' side of her personality. A slew of antiques ranging from hand-painted fans, glassware, lamps to dolls, speak of a passion fostered by her mother's profession as an antique dealer.

A lack of time, she claims, has kept her interests in check, though, and she laments there not being enough hours in the day for learning Italian, gardening, playing her piano or practising her drawing. But she has saved some time by joining the iPod revolution, filling its capacity with her favourite composers - Chopin, Mendelssohn and Schubert - allowing her to listen on the run.

She recently spent a year negotiating the purchase of a getaway retreat in the medieval village of Valbonne in the south of France, showing once more her aggressive streak - 'I had to sack my lawyer in London. I could speak better French than him!'

RESUME

1990 Director, Consolidated Communications

1992 Fast-stream policy executive, Cabinet Office

1993 Private Secretary to Prime Minister's chief scientific adviser Sir

William Stewart

1995 Director of marketing and comms, British Heart Foundation

2000 UK director of corporate affairs, Eli Lilly & Company

2005 Executive director of policy and comms, Cancer Research UK

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