NORTHERN rock chief executive Adam Applegarth has made a habit of sticking his head above the parapet.

As a child, he told his horrified family that he would not follow his hometown football club, Sunderland, instead opting to support their fierce rivals, Newcastle United.

Fast forward to 2005 and Mr Applegarth is instrumental as Northern Rock announces a £25m sponsorship deal with his beloved Magpies - giving the company unparalleled exposure in the North-East.

It has taken him only 18 years to reach the summit of one of Britain's top mortgage lenders, enjoying a meteoric rise after joining the organisation in 1983.

Fitting then, that at the time he joined Northern Rock, the company was also on an upward curve.

Formed only 18 years previously, after a merger between two building societies, Northern Rock was growing rapidly after acquiring 53 other smaller organisations during the Seventies.

In 1982, Mr Applegarth graduated from the University of Durham with a degree in economics with mathematics, having been schooled at Sedbergh School, in Cumbria.

Wanting to stay in the North-East, eager to get the most from his degree, and lured by an offer of time-off to play cricket in the summer, he signed up for Northern Rock.

His first role was as a research assistant in the marketing department, but as the organisation grew, Mr Applegarth's status grew with it, and he was fast-tracked through the ranks as he displayed leadership skills that his superiors were keen to harness.

In October 1996, he was appointed as an executive director, responsible for lending, insurance, information technology, marketing and corporate affairs.

The company was listed in the FTSE 100 in 1999, and when Mr Applegarth was appointed company's chief executive in March 2001 he became the second youngest chief executive in the exclusive list.

Mr Applegarth had been central to the company's development into a FTSE 100 company. A bullish statement of intent, and a warning shot to other mortgage lenders, joining the FTSE 100 propelled Northern Rock into the elite group of British banks.

But while others would embrace the publicity generated by such a success story, Mr Applegarth is said to be a private, unassuming man. He has perhaps gained more column inches in the sports pages of The Northern Echo than he has the business pages.

In 2000, as captain of Sunderland Cricket Club, he led his men to the first Foster's North East Premier League Championship and was named player of the season the same year.

As a strike-bowler, Mr Applegarth formed a winning partnership with ex-West Indies paceman Franklyn Rose, and he finished the season with 39 wickets at the cost of 16.7 runs apiece.

Married to Pat, who he met while at Durham University, the pair have two sons, Gregory, 20, and Ben, 17.

They live in a £2.5m mansion in Matfen, Northumberland, reportedly financed with, perhaps unsurprisingly, a Northern Rock mortgage.