News Article | 7/8/2011

Deloitte U. bringing jobs, visitors

At a time when many corporations are cutting their training budgets or moving training online, professional services firm Deloitte is preparing to open a $300 million learning and leadership development center in Westlake.


The facility will be a meeting place for Deloitte employees ranging from new hires to senior executives.


The 750,000-square-foot center, called Deloitte University, will help the company produce its next generation of leaders and attract and retain top talent, said Blaine Nelson, managing partner of Deloitte’s North Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas practice, headquartered in Dallas. It will have 800 guest rooms and is expected to attract 40,000 to 45,000 visitors a year.


“This differentiates us from our competitors because none of our competitors have a facility like this,” Nelson said. “Even in a soft economy, there is a war for talent.”


Deloitte plans a ribbon-cutting in mid-October and will open the facility shortly after that. Later this month, about 800 people from Deloitte’s Dallas office will spend the night at Deloitte University for a conference and hard test of the facility, Nelson said.


“We’ll be turning on the showers, flushing the toilets, connecting to the Wi-Fi, turning on the TVs,” he said. “The expectation is that the facility will work just fine, but we want to know for sure.”


Deloitte selected the Westlake site after a national search. The climate, central location and quality of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport factored into the selection, as did amenities in the area such as shopping, sports and entertainment venues, Nelson said. Gensler is the project architect and Turner Construction Co. is the general contractor. Benchmark Hospitality International, based in The Woodlands, will handle hotel operations and food service.


Jim Faulkner, an American Airlines spokesman, said the airline is excited about the opening, but it’s too soon to say how much traffic it might drive.


“It will be great to actually go after some of those numbers,” he said.


Deloitte employees will conduct more than 90 percent of the instruction, said Bill Pelster, Deloitte’s managing principal of talent development. About 35,000 Deloitte employees will go through Deloitte University each year, spending three to five days at the facility per trip.


They will take part in classes such as “Mastery of the C-Suite,” and bond through activities, such as cooking classes, building bicycles for charity and learning from an Indy 500 pit crew how to work as a team to change tires, Pelster said. The Westlake facility will have a replica of Deloitte’s board room at its headquarters in New York, he said.


“A lot of the activity you’re going to see at Deloitte University is really blending the technical skills that our professionals need to be successful in the marketplace and also taking them through very intensive simulation and case-based scenarios,” Pelster said. “They’ll really get to flex their intellectual muscles to understand what it means to be a business leader.”


Deloitte expects to conduct 4 million hours of training throughout the firm next year, including about 1 million hours at Deloitte University, Pelster said. Very little of the training, if any, will consist of PowerPoint presentations and the like, Pelster said.


“Instead, you’ll see teams of five or six working on problems — in some cases competing against each other — being coached and mentored by more senior Deloitte professionals,” he said. “Deloitte University will be a high-touch, experiential place for learning.”


Much of the learning will take place at ice cream socials or sitting around a fire pit, said Diana O’Brien, managing partner for Deloitte University. The goal is to build the kind of connections that can’t be built online, she said.


“To be competitive in the marketplace and give the next generation of leaders and what they need, we felt strongly that we needed a physical place,” she said.


Deloitte University is evaluating ways in which its employees can work with North Texas charities on team-building activities, O’Brien said. As an example, employees who visit for training, led by professional bicycle builders, will turn out several hundred bikes each year and donate them.