What does it do?

The company owns and runs the water and electricity network in North-west England, from the Cumbrian Lakes to the south of Derbyshire, and does a lot of the managing of water services elsewhere in the UK and abroad. But it doesn't actually sell us the water and electricity. That's the job of the supply companies. It all requires the ownership of a lot of land - the equivalent of 59,000 football pitches - and the maintenance of miles and miles of underground and overhead cables and pipes. In a classic piece of business diversification, the firm has also moved into what's called business process management, which means helping large firms run their finance, accounting and HR operations. The company does this for, among other people, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Powergen. Abroad, it manages water services in half a dozen countries, including Australia, Poland and the Philippines, and, intriguingly, specialises in debt recovery for water businesses in the USA.

Vital Statistics

Of the firm's current worldwide workforce of 18,000, all but 2,000 work in the UK, with the major concentration in the North-west.

The office

The headquarters are in Warrington, up the Mersey from Liverpool, and there are 30 other offices around the country.

The office

About 20 graduates are being taken on this year, including engineers, water specialists and general managers. The company says it welcomes intelligent, competitive and challenging team players, presumably not "challenging" in the way the word is used in schools, where it is code for "badly behaved".

The recruitment process:

Exact details of the five separate recruitment programmes can be found at www.unitedutilities.com/careers. Selection is via phone interview and assessment centre. Training lasts two years and is split into four placements, designed to show as diverse as possible a view of the business's operation. Most graduate recruits seem to get experience in the "leakage" department, a key issue for any water company. Others have had spells tracing and fixing electrical faults, working in customer management and on the installation of a wind turbine and solar panel at an education centre. All graduates are supported to study for and take exams leading to chartered qualifications.

Top dollar?

The minimum starting salary is £22,000, with relocation help for those moving into the job, and a bonus scheme of up to 7.5 per cent of salary.

Beam me up Scotty?

If the graduate recruits' profiles on the website are anything to go by, the training programmes offer a smooth transition into management roles, with plenty of support and advice from line managers along the way.

Who's the boss?

Philip Green, an economics and politics graduate from Swansea University, became chief executive in March last year, after senior roles with Reuters, P&O and DHL.

Little-known fact:

The current average cost, for a British household, of the water it uses, and the waste water it discards, is 85p a day.