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About Capital One UK Home Loans

"It's been a big year for Hfs. Last year, the credit-brokering firm featured in our list of small to medium-sized enterprises, ranked 31st. This year, it has nearly doubled its head count, and easily qualifies as a ""big"" company. New offices opened in Didsbury, Manchester, a new brand was launched and the firm set up its own charity. It also celebrated its first ever Hfs wedding, though it's not just the staff who are getting hitched — the business was acquired by Capital One (see 90, page 93) last November.

Retaining its status as one of the best companies to work for while undergoing such rapid growth is testament to Hfs's culture, which, if summed up in a word, would be ""fun"": 87% say their team is fun to work with, 82% say they can be themselves and 89% laugh a lot with team members.

Stress levels are the lowest in our survey; just 12% said they had suffered job-related stress in the past year. They even have fun with rewards and bonuses, thanks to a ""dreambank"" scheme which exchanges points for prizes. Being good at darts helps — they are handed out for exceptional work and thrown at a board to claim cash awards.

Leadership and management are real strengths at Hfs. Eighty-four per cent have a great deal of faith in the leader of the organisation, and 81% are inspired by him, the sixth- and fifth-highest scores respectively among all 100 best companies. All of which should put a big smile on the face of managing director Paul Naden.

Winner of northwest young entrepreneur and young director of the year accolades, Naden started out as an office junior at Hfs. Still only 35 (36 this month), he was made MD in 1998. His enthusiasm is infectious and his rise through the ranks motivational. Beaming, he explains his outlook: ""I love working here. I work long hours, I work hard, and I want people who work here to enjoy themselves. I'd like to think that the vast majority do. I can honestly say that there's no one here that I wouldn't go out for a drink with.""

It has taken hard work and some tough decisions to achieve this equilibrium, however. ""The former owner had lots of old-fashioned ideas. If he could save £5,000 on someone's salary, he'd be pleased,"" says Naden. ""We made a conscious decision to invest in systems and employees. For a couple of years we made no money at all.""

Now happily in the black, Hfs reported pre-tax profits of £4.8m last year, and isn't tightfisted when it comes to sharing the spoils. More than 80% of staff are happy with their pay and benefits (loans/mortgage processors earn £22,000 on average, including bonuses), the third-highest score for this in our survey.

There is a generous spend for fun — which hit £151,000 last year. This equates to £335 per employee on the current head count. About 50 team nights out punctuate the year, and events last year included a trip to Alton Towers, a polo weekend, a chauffeured night on the town in Manchester and white-water rafting in Wales, to name but a few. Successes are celebrated with meals out and Hfs stands at least the first round of drinks at the monthly meeting held in the local pub.

This monthly gathering is also the forum for announcing the employee of the month, who bags £500 for the honour, while runners-up receive 1,000 dreambank points (3,500 of these will buy a mountain bike). These and other awards help maintain the competitive buzz: employee of the year wins £2,000 and runners-up get weekend breaks for two to a European city or a spa. All sorts of high jinks add light-heartedness to the working environment, and staff were all as mad as March hares during the month last year, when everyone got £1,000 for meeting a target, while also dedicating themselves to a range of fancy dress and lookalike contests. Naden was to be found disguised as the ""brew lady"" — serving tea all day dressed up as a woman. This adds up to a contented workforce, almost three- quarters of whom say their work does not make them feel like they are on a treadmill.

John Abernathy, team leader in the My Loan division, says: ""There's a real personal feeling, even though the numbers have doubled. They bend over backwards to make staff happy. It's a phenomenal company to work for."" Sales adviser Lee Moore adds: ""If everyone gets on, then it means you want to come to work. My mum says: 'What are you doing? You're up! You're ready for work!'"

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    No employees under 35

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