a-z of employers: B&Q

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Age: Founded in 1969, 29 this year.

History: The company was set up by brothers-in-law Richard Block and David Quayle (), although both left in the late Seventies. Quayle, who formerly worked for a tile company, now runs an art gallery near the site of his first store, in Southampton, all 2,500 square feet of it (some of today's stores measure 150,000 square feet). In 1979, the company went public, with shares hugely over-subscribed. F W Woolworth bought it for pounds 16.8 million in 1980, and 34 Dodge City stores were added to the chain, bringing the total to 87. Kingfisher - which also owns Superdrug and Comet - bought the lot soon after, and expanded to 155 stores. Today, there are 281 stores, plus two in Taiwan. The company is now planning an international expansion strategy.

Address: Head office, comprising 700 staff, is at Chandler's Ford, near Southampton. Stores are all over the British Isles; many of the former Dodge City stores are in the north of England.

Ambience: Employees are encouraged to use first names - even the chairman and managing director are Jim and Martin. As befits a DIY company, there is no formal dress code. Jeans are common, suit wearers will feel out of place. Much of head office is open plan, and relaxed interaction is encouraged.

Vital statistics: is going through a rapid growth period; the last turnover figure was pounds 1.464 billion (1996), with pounds 97.2 million profit. has 19,500 employees in the UK.

Lifestyle: Employees are more likely to zip from store to store in a company car than from continent to continent in a jet. Graduates are expected to spend around six months absorbing store life, and, as stores are open till all hours, must be flexible. The "You can do it when you it" attitude extends to a "can-do" staff ethos.

Easy to get into? Yes, at the moment. Due to exponential growth plans, says it is actively seeking 2,500 general employees, 100 store managers and 14 general managers for big stores with revenues of pounds 20 million. Those with horticulturalist, interior decoration, plum- bing and electrical experience are also sought, although graduates don't need a DIY background to get on to one of two trainee schemes. Places for the fast-track Kingfisher Management Development Scheme number an annual 55 (only 20 of these work directly for ). The retail management scheme has 105 places; both start in October.

Glittering alumni: Tory MP and Asda head honcho Archie Norman was once 's finance director. Nigel Whittaker, a former chairman, rose to new heights with Kingfisher and became a spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Pay: Fast-track trainees start on pounds 18,500; those on the retail scheme begin on pounds 15,250. Store managers can expect to rise to pounds 45,000, plus package, while those "in the field" work on a 100 per cent bonus. Senior managers start at pounds 60,000.

Training: Fast-track employees are expected to become senior managers within eight to nine years; accordingly, they work part-time for a postgraduate diploma in management adjudicated by Templeton College, Oxford. Retail trainees, who focus on the operational side of things, take a postgraduate certificate in retail management through Manchester's Metropolitan University. In-store practical training is provided.

Canteen: Staff rooms are fairly sparse, but include microwaves and drinks machines. There is a subsidised canteen at head office, which looks out on to a courtyard filled with nicely-weathering benches and potted shrubs.

Who's the boss? Chairman Jim Hodkinson, one of 's first store managers, and Martin Toogood, who joined five years ago, is managing director.

Rachelle Thackray


Professor Laurie Cuthbert of the Dept of Electronic Engineering at Queen Mary & Westfield College would like to point out that the description of the in-house Masters degree "with University College, London" in last week's profile of BT was incorrect. The MSc in Telecommunications Engineering is a University of London intercollegiate initiative in which the Electronic Engineering Departments of University College, Queen Mary & Westfield College, Imperial College and Kings College participate; University College handles the administration.