The paper discusses the results of a research study to determine what characteristics outstanding university lecturers have in common. Academic staff and graduate students at an Australian university were invited to participate in a survey questionnaire followed by voluntary interviews. Lecturers who had been identified as outstanding were also interviewed. The five characteristics were expertise, holistic approach to learning, engaging the student, open door policy and ambitious altruists. This study found that outstanding lecturers were unconventional in their work practices and valued student learning often at the sacrifice of their own career paths. Outstanding university lecturers are ambitious altruists who are working in an increasingly bureaucratized system.