Jay Parikh does not remember Britain as being a very friendly place when he arrived as a refugee. A repressive regime had pushed his family out of their home in Uganda, forcing the then 21-year-old Parikh to move to Britain. “It was an upsetting time,” said Parikh. “I remember my arrival vividly even though it is 30 years ago. I had just £57 in my pocket. Although we had been wealthy, we had to leave everything behind.”
Parikh did not get a warm welcome. “Enoch Powell had made his ‘rivers of blood’ speech and there was a lot of racial discrimination,” he said. Parikh took a job selling furniture and started looking for a better position. His only lead was the address of a firm in Macclesfield — one he had been given by colleagues in Uganda, where he had worked as a pharmaceuticals salesman. It was this company, now known as AstraZeneca, that was to take him into its fold..
“At the beginning,” he said, “they helped me through night school to do a marketing diploma. My managers were very supportive — the company really gave me security.” Parikh’s life now revolves around his job as national sales manager. “AstraZeneca has looked after me extremely well and it has become a very big part of my life.”
He is one of AstraZeneca’s 10,000 workers in Britain. The pharmaceutical company, which was formed by the merger of Sweden’s Astra and Britain’s Zeneca in 1999, has 50,000 staff worldwide. It has won praise for its flexible working policy, under which employees are able to buy benefits such as a car or extra holidays.
Malcolm Hurrell, the human resources director, says: “A lot of people have freedom in the way they work and where they work. We tend to focus on what you do and not when you do it. If someone, for example, has a normal office job then he or she can work from home when it suits. Workers can leave early to see a football match if they want to. We also allow use of the internet at work.”
In return, AstraZeneca asks that the flexibility is repaid. “We do demand long hours, and sometimes people can work up to 60 hours a week.”
Hurrell adds: “We also have counselling to help people deal with day-to-day things — everything from finding an old people’s home to coping with a problem they are having with their manager.”
The sometimes paternal approach is what has made AstraZeneca a special place to work. “Since coming to England I have never worked for another company,” Parikh says. “Now all of my friends are from AstraZeneca — it has become like a big family for me.”
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