Fast Track: A-Z of Employers - Northern Foods

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The Independent Culture
Age: 27

History: Essentially began as a dairy operation at Holme on Spalding Moor in 1937 and became Northern Dairies in 1942. Expanded rapidly from the Sixties - initially in partnership with Marks & Spencer, but now with all the major UK retail multiples. The company's name changed to Northern Foods in 1972 to reflect the widening interest in other product areas. It now has a balance of brands and private-label businesses, the former including Fox's Biscuits, Ski Yoghurt and Goodfella's Pizzas, as well as producing for all the major retail brands.

Address: Headquarters are in Hull, with an additional 60 sites in the UK and Eire.

Ambience: "Friendly, supportive, demanding and challenging" is the description given in the graduate careers brochure. Lynne Waters, graduate recruitment manager, adds: "All of the sites operate autonomously, which makes it a very informal organisation."

Vital statistics: The company currently has 18 operating businesses, employing more than 20,000 people nationwide. The operating profit last year was pounds 94.3m.

Lifestyle: "As a graduate, you can expect a fast-moving and demanding career," says Lynne Waters, adding: "Expect early responsibility with a real job to stretch and excite you from day one." The company encourages graduates to work within their local community early on into their career. Most undertake a two-week community-based project, with the aim of developing personal skills and assisting people in the locality.

Easy to get into? No. Last year, about 30 graduates were recruited from among 18,000 applications. Nevertheless, any degree discipline is considered for careers in personnel, commercial, distribution and operations management. For technical jobs, engineering and finance, however, a more specific background is preferred.

Glittering alumni: Chris (now Lord) Haskins joined the company in 1962 and became chairman in 1986. He also works for the Government's Better Regulation Task Force as chairman.

Pay: Starting salary for graduates in 1999 is pounds 17,500. Salaries are reviewed every six months during the training period.

Training: The graduate training programme - which lasts between 18 months and two years - comprises five basic courses: introduction to Northern Foods, manufacturing management, commercial awareness, outdoor-based self- development and career management. Graduates are also encouraged to study for professional qualifications. Those wishing to pursue a more general business degree will be given the opportunity to study for a Northern Foods diploma in management studies.

"Courses are hard work but fun, and also provide a forum for graduates from different functions and businesses to meet, mix and exchange ideas," says Joanne Dodge, a graduate training manager.

Facilities: There are canteens or restaurants on all main manufacturing sites, but - surprisingly - they do not serve Northern Foods!

Who's the boss? Jo Stewart, 49, is chief executive. He initially joined Northern Foods in 1989, as the managing director of Fox's Biscuits. He was appointed to his present post in March

last year.