May 17, 2004
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Coke guards its syrup formula. Krispy Kreme protects its
doughnut recipe. McDonald's has its secret sauce. But technology
giant Accenture's magic formula is plain for all to see, and it
has Chicago written all over it.
Cynics say Chicago doesn't spawn winning technology companies.
I disagree. Sometimes we simply forget to claim our successes.
While Accenture smartly presents itself as a global firm, its
origins are local. Accenture emerged from Andersen Consulting,
which was sired by Arthur Andersen & Co.'s Management
Information Consulting Division.
Though the corporate family tree may be complicated, the fruits
of this inheritance are impressive. What was once a
several-hundred-million-dollar side business for an accounting
firm is now an $11.8 billion management consulting, technology
services and outsourcing company employing 90,000 people in 48
countries. Accenture's market cap is $21.8 billion.
While many factors fuel Accenture's growth, one trait is clear.
Accenture exhibits a Chicago-style pragmatism toward technology.
Accenture stays current on the latest technology with a keen
eye toward practical commercialization. If there's one person
among the thousands who best represents this philosophy, it's
Accenture's chief scientist, Glover Ferguson, who quietly lives
and works in Chicago.
Ferguson heads the Accenture Technology Labs, with facilities
in Sophia Antipolis, France; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Chicago. On
the site of the old Greyhound bus station, where the Chicago Title
& Trust building now stands at Clark and Randolph, some of
Chicago's most cutting-edge technology is researched and developed
for commercial use.
Remember the future drama "Minority Report," starring
Tom Cruise? Walk into Ferguson's lab, and you'll see practical
demonstrations of large-scale flat-screen control rooms that rival
the movie. There are interactive clothes closets that help you
select the day's attire. There are working demonstrations for
managers of railroads and music stores.
"We apply the technology trends that arrived a little
before their time, and juxtapose that with what we know about the
real pain points in business," says Ferguson. Take
leading-edge technology, and match it up with commercial
opportunity: That's Accenture's secret sauce. It sounds like plain
old Midwestern pragmatism. It was invented right here.
Next time someone says Chicago lacks technology success
stories, send them to the site of the old Greyhound bus station.
Tell them to look up and open their eyes.
Zander meets & greets
Executives Club President Kaarina Koskenalusta hosted a
welcoming reception last week for Motorola CEO Ed Zander and wife
Mona at the Chicago Club. Abbott CEO and Executives Club chairman
Miles White introduced Zander to more than 300 attendees.
"I'm glad we made the first quarter," said Zander
sounding relieved. He praised Motorola's people, intellectual
property, and global brand, saying he's settling in for the long
"My wife and I love Chicago, and we just purchased a place
on North Michigan Avenue," he said. "We hope to make
Chicago our home for many years to come." Zander highlighted
Motorola's new urban design facility located downtown. He raised
the possibility of taking on a civic responsibility. "We can
pick some things to go and work on in addition to running
Motorola," added Zander. It was an excellent local debut.
Brad Spirrison, co-founder of ePrairie, Chicago's online
technology news source, hosts Thursday's Dot-Com Boomerang at the
Westin River North.
Featured speakers include Jared Polis, founder of
Proflowers.com, and David Litman, founder of Hotels.com. They'll
be joined by 14 dot-com survivors who've prospered despite the
cyclical nature of high tech. Look for Chicago serial
entrepreneurs Gian Fulgoni (IRI, comScore Networks), Pat Spain
(Hoovers, HighBeam Research) and Alex Zoghlin (Neoglyphics, Orbitz
and neoVentures) among the presenters.
"We want to showcase entrepreneurs who have faced
adversity and come out on the right end," says Spirrison.
Bits & bytes