Fast Track: A-Z of Employers: THE POST OFFICE

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Age: 364 years

History: The Post Office was established in 1635 when King Charles I introduced a public postal service. Over 200 years later - in 1840 - it launched the world's first adhesive postage stamp, The Penny Black, that revolutionised postal communications world-wide. Most significant this century has been the introduction of world's first scheduled air mail service, post coding, and, in recent years, electronic services converting information received by Royal Mail in electronic form to hard copy letters. The Post Office has recently been promised increased commercial freedom, and is working in a number of different markets. Its brands include Royal Mail, Parcelforce Worldwide, Post Office Counters and SSL, its telemarketing arm.

Address: HQ is at 148 Old Street, London EC1V 9HQ, with regional offices across Britain. It also has a presence in Europe and the US.

Ambience: "Although it is a vast organisation, it is relatively easy to build networks of colleagues," says a spokesperson. Overall, it is renowned for its busy, friendly, purposeful atmosphere in which team working is paramount. The focus has always been on "service", but the PO is now concentrating on "understanding and satisfying customer needs".

Vital statistics: In 1997-98, The PO had a turnover of nearly pounds 7bn and made a pre-tax profit of pounds 651m, the 22nd year of subsidy-free profit. There is a 190,000 multi-skilled workforce, handling 75 million items every working day. Post Office Counters operates the largest retail chain in Europe.

Lifestyle: Entrants to the various management entry schemes are encouraged - not surprisingly - to "work hard." That said, there is an unusually strong emphasis on ensuring that employees have a home/work balance.

Easy to get into? Around 16,000 graduates apply annually for 200 to 300 places. Graduates straight from university are likely to join finance, operations or sales - and are expected to progress to senior management. The subject of your degree will not matter as much as your grade - or a clear ability to use exceptional leadership skills. Individuals with two or more years commercial experience are also considered for the management entry schemes. Most recruits are 20 to 30-years-old although mature graduates are also welcomed.

Glittering alumni: John Roberts (Post Office chief executive) and Iain Vallance (chairman of BT) - both of whom joined the Post Office at graduate level.

Pay: Basic graduate starting salary is pounds 16,250. There's also access to performance related annual bonus schemes.

Training: Most training takes place at Coton House management centre in Rugby. MBA graduates have a week-long induction there before embarking on a management development programme and in-house courses in their own areas. For all other graduates, development is continuous over their careers. Last year, the Post Office spent pounds 2m each week on training activities business-wide.

Facilities: Varies enormously from site to site but the larger ones have subsidised social clubs, restaurants and gyms.

Who's the boss? The chairman is Neville Bain and the chief executive is John Roberts.

Kate Hilpern