A-Z of employers: Dixons Group

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The Independent Culture
Age: 61

History: The first Dixons was a photographic studio in Southend, opened by Charles Kalms and Michael Mindel in 1937. When Kalms's son Stanley joined the business in 1949, aged 16, he persuaded the pair to advertise second-hand photographic products in the local and national press. This led to a mail-order division, and a "make your own credit agreement" arrangement. Kalms Jr began travelling to the Far East in the 1950s, forging links with Japanese manufacturers who supplied products direct; audio and hi- fi units were added to the range in the 1960s, and in the 1970s, Dixons opened Europe's largest computerised warehouse. In 1984, the group took over 613 Currys outlets, and more recently developed PC World and The Link, a chain which sells communications products.

Address: Dixons House, Maylands Avenue, Hemel Hempstead - home to 1,500 headquarters staff. The company's main warehouse is in Stevenage, and head office is in Mayfair.

Ambience: Fast-paced, competitive and aggressive. "We're living and breathing sales figures from the previous day; it's quite a hard but a positive environment," according to a spokesman. Offices are mostly open-plan, with bookable meeting rooms, but employees are not permitted to "dress down".

Vital statistics: Turnover last year was pounds 2.4bn, (profit pounds 169.4m) from 347 Dixons stores, 216 Currys Superstores, 160 Currys high street stores, 36 PC World stores and 90 The Link stores. The group employs around 19,000 people, 35 per cent of them part time.

Lifestyle: Long hours, with lots of UK travel for field staff. "We have a culture of getting out there," says a spokesman.

Easy to get into? Only six per cent of applicants win a trainee place, around 200 of which are on offer this year. The company takes on those with A Levels and degrees - often from vocational colleges - and retail experience is preferred.

Glittering alumni: Rupert Gavin, a former deputy manager, is now head of BT's consumer division. Other former employees are Tony Dignum, a finance director for the BBC, and Peter Morris, vice-president of Disney Stores.

Pay: Starting salary for graduates is around pounds 13,500, progressing to pounds 20,000 for managers of small stores. Those managing the larger PC Worlds and Currys superstores are earning between pounds 30,000 and pounds 35,000.

Training: Trainees on the accelerated management development programme are expected to progress to management level within two years. After a week with the company, graduates are sent on a four-day course to learn how to act on the sales floor, followed by the NVQ Certificate of Retail Excellence (CORE) and further management training. MCMR (`My customer, my responsibility') is an essential part of Dixons' ethos.

Canteen: The restaurant at headquarters is open for breakfast from 7.45am to 9.15am, then for lunch from midday to 2.15pm.

Who's the boss? Sir Stanley Kalms, son of Dixons' founder. Mark Souhami, chairman of the British Retail Consortium, is his deputy, and group chief executive is John Clare.