IN 1989, when he was just 18, Mark O’Mahony started his career for what was then Willhire by scrubbing wheel arches and waxing bonnets. Now just 40, he is responsible for 121 market-leading Northgate Vehicle Hire staff and 4,000 commercial vehicles across East Anglia from his office in Blackstone Road, Huntingdon.

The East Anglia area operations manager did not work as a vehicle cleaner for long, and by the age of 20 he was put in charge of the King's Lynn depot, becoming the youngest manager in the region for Willhire, which was founded in 1988.

Mark sailed quickly through the ranks, collecting management awards along the way, and now he directs the daily operations for vehicle rentals across Northgate's four regional depots and supporting workshops in East Anglia.

In his 22 years, Mark witnessed the company's ownership pass first to bus giant Arriva in 1990 and later saw the fleet size double from 2,000 to 4,000 vehicles after it was bought in 2004 by Northgate Vehicle Hire, which has a nationwide fleet of over 60,000 vehicles.

The Huntingdon operation, the busiest in the region, includes 1,000 vehicles, most of which are now on long-term flexible fleet hire to blue-chip corporates and public services, with the rest used by casual business and personal customers.

The name may have changed, but many staff remain, as Mark, who celebrated his 40th birthday on Friday, explained: "In the early days, Willhire was heavily involved with the US air bases across East Anglia, particularly Alconbury in my case.

"I was fortunate enough to start out with a company that provides so many opportunities for progression. Northgate invests substantially in training, development and succession-management. This is in addition to a nationwide apprenticeship scheme.

"Norwich manager Neil Ireson, Bury St Edmunds manager Adie Smith and I all started at the bottom. We are firm believers that with hard work it is possible to make it from the shop floor to upper management."

Mark combines the day-job with financial controller for a family recruitment firm with branches in Great Yarmouth and Thetford.