History: Russian refugee Michael Marks founded the company in 1884, in Kirkgate, a Leeds street market. Ten years later, he teamed up with Tom Spencer, a cashier from a wholesale company, and established the Marks and Spencer Penny Bazaar. In the 1920s, the growing business adopted a then-revolutionary policy of buying direct from manufacturers, and in 1926 Marks and Spencer became a public company, registering the trademark "St Michael" two years later. In 1930, it opened its flagship store at Marble Arch, and during that decade began to sell food and set up a staff welfare department. When the war came, M&S was involved in running the clothing Utility Scheme. In the mid-1970s, it opened its first continental stores, and in 1988, it bought the American clothing company Brooks Brothers and Kings Super Markets, a US food chain. Mid-1990s, it launched its financial services.
Address: Headquarters are at Michael House, Baker Street, London W1.
Ambience: Renowned as a friendly environment with a high emphasis on team-work.
Vital statistics: There are now 470 stores employing 71,300 people, with a turnover of around pounds 8bn per annum. Around a quarter of the UK adult population visits the stores each week. The company has quite an investment programme, too: pounds 10m this year on community-related projects, plus a three- year pounds 2.2bn scheme. There are more than 3,000 food lines on display, and company's Classics brand is the UK's fourth largest in cosmetics: it also has 33 per cent of the UK's sandwich market.
Lifestyle: Those working in stores will be expected to work weekends and late nights. Trainees have to be "flexible".
Easy to get into? Leadership, adaptability, personal flair and individuality are essential qualities, says a spokesperson. "We're not looking for clones," she explains. "By taking on new people, we keep bringing new ideas into the business." Last year, 260 graduates were recruited in the stores, and a further 70 in Head Office.
Glittering alumni: Keith Oates, the UK's joint managing director, is also a non-executive director of BT, and was formerly a member of the Sports Council of Great Britain.
Pay: Graduates start on pounds 18,000, and there's a London weighting of pounds 3,760. The company is particularly proud of its "exceptional" benefits package, which after two years with the company equates to an extra 30 per cent of the salary, and includes perks such as loans (for a car, season ticket, business clothes, home improvements, education or buying a house), financial planning advice and temporary accommodation. For those changing career, salaries are from pounds 19,500.
Training: M&S is recognised as one of the best trainers around, with emphasis on building technical, managerial and personal skills.
Facilities: An abundance of staff canteens offering subsidised meals.
Who's the boss? Chairman is Sir Richard Greenbury, also a patron of the Samaritans, who became chairman of the Israel-Britain Business Council in 1995.
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