Conference center last resort for Andersen
St. Charles facility was training site
The once-mighty empire of accounting firm Andersen that spanned 84 countries and included 85,000 employees has been reduced to 150 acres and 150 employees in west suburban St. Charles.
Andersen's former training center, located along the Fox River, is set to launch a marketing campaign as soon as next month as part of a grand plan to remake itself as a conference center for companies seeking a secluded but clubby setting.
With 1,041 hotel rooms, the Andersen center would become North America's largest public conference center, according to the International Association of Conference Centers. The St. Charles campus also would bolster Chicago's image as a meeting center, meeting planners say.
"They have always run a top-notch facility," said John Potterton, director of business development at the Summit Executive Centre in downtown Chicago. "It does have the amenities of a resort, and it's a beautiful setting."
Lise Puckorious, director of global meetings at A.T. Kearney, a management-consulting firm, said, "They've got lots of space, and event planners can never have enough space." The center offers more than 105,000 square feet of meeting space and can accommodate groups as large as 2,000.
Still, Andersen will be challenged to keep rooms filled, as a result of corporate cutbacks on travel and spending in a soft economy, say rival conference-center owners and meeting planners.
Rebecca Russell, spokeswoman for the St. Charles campus, said the facility has an advantage in the competitive conference-center business because its infrastructure was adapted to meet Andersen's needs. "Arthur Andersen was a very demanding client," she said.
Although modernized over the years, the center's guest rooms and dining facilities are being upgraded, Russell said. She declined to say how much was being spent.
Called the Center for Professional Education, the makeover includes a new name: Q Center, said former Andersen employees and people in the conference-center industry. Russell declined to comment on the name.
Accenture to the rescue
The center will not be starting from scratch as a conference facility. Consulting firm Accenture, which split from Andersen three years ago, is the center's largest client and has a long-term contract to use the center for training.
Because of Accenture, the center has managed to keep its doors open despite the loss of Andersen, which was the facility's sole user for most of its 33-year existence. Russell expects 20,000 visitors to use the center this year. That's down from 60,000 annually when it was handling Andersen's training.
The training center is the lone operating asset that remains of the former accounting giant. Although Andersen no longer exists as an accounting entity, the partnership known as Arthur Andersen LLP has not been formally dissolved, said company spokesman Patrick Dorton.
In addition to the St. Charles staff, a few dozen employees, mainly lawyers, human resource administrators and technology personnel, occupy one floor at Andersen's former downtown Chicago headquarters.
Founded in 1913, Andersen began to unravel in March 2002 when it was indicted for obstructing justice in a federal investigation of financial fraud at client Enron Corp. Long-standing audit clients, such as Abbott Laboratories, Sara Lee Corp. and UAL Corp., parent of United Airlines, abandoned the firm. Within a few months, large blocks of Andersen partners negotiated deals to join rivals.
By November, remaining individual partners had resigned, ceding power to Andersen's executive team, according to a lawsuit brought by a retired Andersen partner.
Andersen's executives also resigned from the partnership after creating four limited liability corporations named Omega Management I through IV. The Omega entities are Andersen's only four remaining partners; the suit claims this was done to try to insulate partners from liability.
The Andersen partners held on to the training center, said Dorton, because "it's an important part of the ongoing business. It's a state-of-the-art facility."
Boot camp atmosphere
The center was the envy of the accounting industry for its resort-like amenities and rigorous training.
In 1970, Arthur Andersen purchased the former home of a Catholic women's college north of downtown St. Charles to centralize its training operations. The leafy campus helped Andersen transform young college recruits from all over the world into well-scrubbed accountants and consultants.
The job of shaping recruits was taken seriously--perhaps compulsively--at Andersen. The company spent about $240 million, or 6 percent of its U.S. revenue, on training.
Regimented courses gave the center a military feel, and it became known as Andersen boot camp. For many, it was their first taste of Andersen's buttoned-down culture. Trainees were expected to adhere to Andersen's uniform of conservative dark suits.
After an $80 million expansion in the late 1980s, the center boasts 112 meeting rooms, a 19,000-square-foot ballroom, two amphitheaters, two boardrooms, a fitness center, tennis courts, sand volleyball courts, a soccer field and a social center with a bar.
By the late 1990s, more than 60,000 people passed through facility annually, mostly Andersen employees. Andersen also rented the facility to other groups, such as the Fox Valley Hospice, which has held an annual fundraiser at the center for the past three years.
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