Teesside University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Graham Henderson has received the CBE from Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace for his services to higher education.
The honour, announced at the New Year, recognises the major role Professor Henderson has played in both the development of higher education nationally over the last 36 years and leading Teesside University to its current highly respected position in the higher education sector - culminating in Teesside winning the national University of the Year award in 2009/10 - the first new university ever to do so.
Professor Graham Henderson CBE became Vice-Chancellor in April 2003 - having joined Teesside in February 1999 as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic & Development).
Despite his distinguished career, Professor Henderson did not really enjoy his latter years in secondary school and chose not to go straight to university, taking a job training as an accountant instead.
"I quickly decided accountancy wasn't for me and that maybe education wasn't so bad after all," he laughed, so having successfully applied for a scholarship from his employer, the National Coal Board, he went to Lanchester Polytechnic in Coventry to do his first degree in mathematics.
"My personal experience means that I can empathise with people who don't go straight to university from school. Mine wasn't a typical path. I was the first in my family to go into higher education and I was very fortunate to be a sponsored student."
Now it is part of Teesside University's mission, in an area of the country with low participation rates in higher education, to get bright minds from diverse backgrounds to university. "Not just bright young people, but people who didn't have the opportunity to go to university when they left school, and as our reputation continues to grow, students are coming from much further afield nationally and internationally," explains Professor Henderson.
Professor Henderson's academic career began in 1975 at Nene College (now the University of Northampton) after which he spent 17 years at Northumbria University (formerly Newcastle Polytechnic) where, in 1989, he became one of the founding Directors of the Newcastle Business School - a school which went on to gain an 'excellent' rating in 1995.
"That was a proud day in my life," he reflects. "At that time Newcastle Business School (NBS) was a large school with over 5,000 students, and it became the only business school on the east side of the country between Berwick and Nottingham to have an excellent rating."
In a career littered with memorable moments, such as becoming a Professor and a Dean, gaining recognition for excellence at NBS was one of four particularly special, and memorable, highlights Professor Henderson listing the other three as; the day he became Vice-Chancellor at Teesside; the day Teesside won University of the Year; and the day he received the CBE.
"Under my leadership we've done a lot of things at Teesside. The University has grown rapidly in confidence and stature while pursuing my goal of keeping it financially stable and making it a happy place to work and study.
"We are now recognised as one of the leading business-facing universities, and we're excellent at working in partnership - which is why business wants to work with us. We also have a growing reputation for being responsive, innovative and solutions focussed and we will continue to foster and value our applied research. It's a great place to be, and to lead, and I'm not hanging up my boots yet.
"I'm fortunate to be involved with a lot of organisations and I make sure they all know what Teesside University does, and it's great to hear national figures, government ministers, such as Dr Vince Cable, and others saying what a great institution Teesside is."
But he has to switch off sometimes and after a long period as a rugby player and rugby coach he has now swapped his boots for dancing shoes for a dash of ballroom with wife Joan, being taught by Lynda Mitchinson an ex-British and UK Ballroom dancing champion.
Graham lives in Guisborough with his wife and pet labrador, and has three children - Nicola, a senior physiotherapist; Robert who, after completing his master's degree at Teesside, is now a geography teacher; and youngest son Michael: "He's followed in his dad's footsteps and become a maths teacher."
Professor Henderson added: "I'm genuinely honoured and privileged to receive the CBE. I have spent 36 years working in higher education and I have loved every minute of it. I am blessed to have had great support and encouragement from my family, my Chancellor, my Chairman, my colleagues at Teesside, and colleagues across the north east and the wider higher education sector. I am always delighted when I hear people say that Teesside University, my University, is a University that is doing it while others are just talking about it."
Chairman of the University Board of Governors Sandy Anderson OBE, said: "Graham Henderson has shown exceptional leadership over the last eight years and this richly deserved award will be acclaimed across the whole of our region and throughout the higher education sector."
Chancellor of Teesside University, Lord Sawyer of Darlington, said: "I am absolutely thrilled for Graham and for his family. He is an outstanding and inspirational Chief Executive and I feel very proud to work with him."
President of Teesside University Students' Union, Lori Wheatman, said: "It's a wonderful accolade for a wonderful man and thoroughly deserved. Professor Henderson has played a massive role not just in the astonishing development and success we've seen here at Teesside University over the past decade but also the progress of the region as a whole.
"Despite his many commitments and responsibilities both within the University and on external bodies, continual improvement of this University and the student experience it provides are always at the very top of his agenda. I'm sure I speak for all of the previous student leaders who have held office while he has been Vice-Chancellor when I thank him for his approachability, good humour and excellent advice. We all know his unstinting support has been integral to the way the Students' Union has developed and progressed in recent years."