Mr Willetts is now backing leadership contender David Davis
Date of birth: 9 March 1956
Shadow trade and industry secretary
King Edward's School, Birmingham; Christ Church, Oxford
Married, one son, one daughter
On his party's future: "What we have to do is move forward confidently and challenge Tony Blair for the centre ground of British politics. Indeed we should have the boldness to trump him. We should offer a stronger economy and a better society than he can."
What the press says: "His teasing nickname of 'two brains' is properly deserved; it might even underestimate the amount of material stuffed into his cranium. It is a reflection of his fundamental decency that the primary objection to his becoming leader is that he might be too nice and insufficiently robust for that challenging position," The Times.
A leading figure on the Conservatives' modernising wing, David Willetts has a reputation as one of the party's big thinkers.
A former Treasury civil servant and graduate of the Number 10 policy unit at the height of Margaret Thatcher's time in office, he subsequently became director of research for the Centre for Policy Studies.
He is also a prolific author on Conservative philosophy.
After his election to the Commons in 1992, he enjoyed a rapid rise through the ranks, but he came unstuck when the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee criticised his role as a whip in the proceedings of an investigation into Neil Hamilton.
In opposition, he served as shadow education and employment secretary under William Hague, before taking on the work and pensions brief.
His reputation as strategic thinker was confirmed when Michael Howard put him in charge of policy co-ordination.
He also developed an interest in social justice, touring the UK to spend nights on a Birmingham housing estate and at a London homeless shelter.
A keen student of popular culture, Mr Willetts enjoys peppering his speeches with references to Bridget Jones or The Fast Show, and he was recently unmasked as a devotee of Channel 4 reality show Big Brother.
He also belied his bookish image earlier this year by completing the 3.5 mile Solent swim, from the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth, joking that his aim was to raise his physique a level above that of Homer Simpson's.
Last month Mr Willetts ruled himself out of the race for the Conservative leadership - to throw his support behind David Davis.