A-Z of employers; FI GROUP plc

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Age: 36.

History: The grand-daddy of computer services and training. Founded in 1962 by Steve Shirley OBE (confusingly, a woman), it was the first of its kind, and pioneered concepts such as telecommuting. It grew from 100 women working at home to 750 salaried staff and an equal number of freelancers in 1996. Since 1985, it has focused on specialist IT services, and has close partnerships with customers such as Thames Water, Legal & General, The Co-op Bank, Whitbread and Barclays. The company was floated on London's stock exchange in 1996.

Address: Headquarters is in Hemel Hempstead. In addition, there are eight other UK offices.

Ambience: Collective ownership provides what a spokeswoman calls "one of the most distinctive cultures of any UK company". Half the shares are owned by employees, half the staff and board of directors are women, and flexible working is the norm. Democracy and equality, decentralisation and delegation, are watchwords. Teamwork and friendship are encouraged in an open plan office, although dress is smart.

Vital statistics: The company employs 3,500 people and has two subsidiaries, FI Recruitment and FI Training. Pre- tax profits in 1991/2 were pounds 1 million - in 1996/7 they had risen to pounds 6.5 million on a turnover of more than pounds 100 million. In 1996, the company won the Financial Times Newcomer Plc award. Over 40 per cent of the firm's equity is owned by its workforce.

Lifestyle: Trainees may be asked to move around the UK during the first two years of employment. The group has a Flexible Employment Contract and staff are also encouraged to get involved in voluntary and community activities.

Easy to get into? In 1996, the group took on 60 new graduates: this year, it is looking for 80 people, with a 2.2 degree or above. It aims to attract more female graduates, although it insists there is no positive discrimination. A spokeswoman says it is looking for people with a logical approach and ability to analyse, together with a mature, pragmatic outlook. Shortlisted candidates are asked to attend an assessment centre.

Glittering alumni: The group's CEO and deputy chairman was recently appointed as a non-executive director on the board of Barclays Bank.

Pay: Pay is performance-based, plus profit-sharing. Bonuses of up to 10 per cent of salary come in the form of shares.

Training: The company has an intensive two-year scheme for graduates, run alongside live project work and project-based assignments. There is also a strategic development programme for senior management and advanced training for project managers, plus personal development programmes for every employee.

Facilities: One canteen does for all: executives and new graduates could find themselves sitting face-to-face over fish and chips.

Who's the boss? Deputy chairman and chief executive is Hilary Cropper, with chairman Sir Peter Thompson.

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