BINATONE BEGAN HUMBLY importing transistor radios from Hong Kong to Britain in the late 1950s, and it still ranks among the more modest telecoms players. But things may be changing. The firm's headquarters in Western are hardly luxurious, and the digital cordless phones it designs and sells worldwide are marketed under the unassuming slogan: 'Innovation you can afford'. Yet behind this unpretentious corporate image, Binatone is a remarkable success story with turnover growth of more than 200 per cent over the last two years and a public listing in the sights of the company's founder and chairman, Gulu Lalvani. The Karachi-born tycoon has kept Binatone at the forefront of electronics and telecommunications development over the past four decades, steering it through a succession of technological waves from TV games, Walkmans and walkie-talkies to cordless phones. Today, Binatone is the world's second-biggest supplier of the latest generation of digital-enhanced cordless phones after Siemens. The technology was until recently limited to Europe but has now extended globally. This has opened huge new markets for Binatone, most notably in the United States and China. Over the last two years, sales in Russia alone have grown from zero to US$18 million. The emergence of these markets is fuelling Binatone's rapid expansion and the firm is hiring to keep pace. In the past two years, staff numbers have grown from 70 to 110, including a 70-strong research and development team in Shenzhen. Group managing director, Francis Lun, expects the recruitment momentum to continue at much the same pace for the foreseeable future. This is because the telecoms industry is on the brink of another quantum technological leap with voice over internet protocol (VoIP) heralding a new era of free long-distance calls with phones connectable to internet broadband lines. 'People who are computer literate can access it now, but phones with user-friendly technology and connections will be available for the rest of us in the next six months,' Mr Lun said. 'Within a year, everyone will be benefiting from it and for us it is an exciting new opportunity.' Engineers and designers are the staff most in demand at Binatone. 'Phones have a very short product life of only a year or two as technology develops so rapidly. So we continually design new versions and are always on the lookout for good industrial designers who are innovative, can think out of the box and are familiar with European tastes.' As the product range expands into broadband-friendly phones, engineers familiar with the technology are also being sought. With markets now extending globally, Binatone needs sales and marketing executives to explore new business horizons. One of the key posts on offer is that of sales executive which has fallen vacant due to promotion. This executive position involves overseeing major accounts and developing new ones. Markets in 40 countries range from retail chains and shopping catalogues to factories and restaurants that use walkie-talkie systems, as well as international brand customers such as Alcatel, Atlinks, Ascom, Canon, Panasonic, Philips and Sanyo. The firm is also a major supplier to Austria Telecom, KPN, TeleDanmark and Swisscom. Binatone's remuneration policy is to pay 'slightly above market value', Mr Lun said. 'Good talent is hard to come by and we don't want to lose it.' Career prospects are also bright for senior managers since the firm tends to promote directors from within. Four managers were promoted to director level last year. Most appealing of all, though, is the buzz of the industry itself, he said. 'Phones just continue to evolve, which makes it an exciting industry. That's why we are in it. 'Every decade we tend to see a new industry emerge. In the 1950s it was automobiles, in the '60s and '70s it was electronics. Over the last decade it has been communications, with so many developments. This is an industry limited only by our imagination to come up with exciting new products for the public. 'We are not far away from being able to call home to turn on the coffee machine or the air-con ahead of arrival. The technology is available. It is just a matter of integrating it.' In the meantime, Binatone has made the chairman Mr Lalvani a very rich man since he dropped out of university in 1958 and launched his transistor radio export business in Hong Kong. Because Binatone is not yet listed and markets mainly abroad, he is not a household name in Hong Kong. But he is well known in Britain and India, where he was brought up. A close friend of the late Princess Diana and a former major stakeholder in Sir Alan Sugar's Amstrad, he is reported to have a fortune worth several hundred million pounds. Ringing up profits Binatone has enjoyed turnover growth over the past two years of more than 200 per cent as the world's second-largest producer of digital cordless phones. The growth is due largely to the expansion of digital-enhanced cordless phone technology from Europe to other markets, including the United States and China. The company is hiring to keep pace with market expansion. The workforce has risen from 70 to 110 in the past two years. Research and development engineers and designers are most in demand, while sales and marketing executives are also sought. Career prospects for senior managers include fast-track promotion to director level.