KPMG’s new $450 million employee training hub is a locus of experience design

“Welcome home”
“Welcome home”
Image: KPMG
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“Welcome home!”

That’s the greeting every KPMG employee gets when they arrive at the firm’s new 800,000-square-foot training complex in Orlando, Florida. Inaugurated in January, the so-called KPMG Lakehouse serves as a professional development and innovation hub for the accounting, tax, and advisory firm’s 32,000 US-based employees and partners.

The Lakehouse offers many amenities for an ideal learning retreat: 800 single-occupancy guest rooms, 90 classrooms and innovation labs, a 1,000-seat auditorium, a 15,000-sq-ft gym, miles of cycling and running paths, and views of Orlando’s Lake Nona. But beyond the physical infrastructure, the KPMG Lakehouse has impressed early visitors because of its attentiveness to details that ensure a guest’s comfort, otherwise known as “experience design.”

“I feel euphoric! It’s a very historic moment,” said KPMG CEO Lynne Doughtie, who spoke to Quartz shortly after the opening. “To have this type of investment in our talent that will fuel our culture and our success for the next hundred years feels really special.”

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KPMG spent $450 million to build the Lakehouse, the largest capital investment in the company’s 120-year history. David Turner, KPMG’s chief financial officer, said the proposal for a permanent learning center made sense given that KPMG had been spending more than $100 million annually in hotel expenses for employee training sessions across the US.

Holding workshops in different venues required repeat spending for new signage, tech set-up, and other logistical details.”We realized that we could spend that $110 million to $120 million on our own facility,” said Turner. Along with Laura Newinski, the company’s head of operations, Turner spent the last five years overseeing the Lakehouse’s development.

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But beyond the money factor, the KPMG Lakehouse became an opportunity to build an architectural embodiment of the company culture. “We quickly realized we could do a lot more here beyond training—board meetings, innovation labs, or client meetings,” Turner said. “We had the opportunity to design everything that reinforced our culture, our legacy, and our history.”

Because it organizes about 2,500 workshops a year, KPMG has a lot of data on what delights or irks most people who have to attend mandatory trainings. Its employees—road warriors who travel frequently—also have considerable insight on ideal environments for lodging and learning. Working with the architectural firm Gensler, KPMG aspired to design a space that was better than any big fancy hotel could offer.

“There’s no point building our own hotel,” Turner said. “We wanted to build a cultural home for our employees.”

From the outside, the Lakehouse’s architecture doesn’t exactly conjure the feeling of a rustic lakeside retreat. The hulking, modern glass-and-concrete structure seems more suitable to a busy metropolis than its tropical Floridian setting. But within the rather cold-looking complex, designers created systems that inject warmth and hospitality—the sense of “home” that Turner refers to—at every turn.

Emphasis on experience design

Selecting the right location was key. Turner said the company chose to build in Orlando from 50 other cities largely because of the availability of direct flights from the firm’s headquarters in New York and other key KPMG office locations. “We then negotiated with the city, the state, the airport authorities. We were very focused on the experience that our people were going to have getting to the Lakehouse,” Turner said.

While on the shuttle to the facility, employees are instantly checked into their rooms via a mobile app. A navigation feature directs guests to their rooms upon arrival and points out convening areas. Room assignments aren’t based on corporate hierarchy, which Doughtie is particularly keen about. “There are partners getting training here, and there are also interns,” she said. “We’re all here together.”

At the opening, a colleague introducing executives to a class of interns mentioned offhand that Doughtie was planning to go for a morning jog on the grounds the next day. The interns quickly mobilized, messaging her to offer themselves up as running partners, and then following up with her in person when they spotted her around the facility. At 6:30 am the following morning, she said, she went out for a three-mile run with a gaggle of 20-somethings who took turns running alongside her and getting her career advice.

Unlike the windowless conference halls in most hotels, each classroom in the KPMG Lakehouse opens to the outdoors. Small groups can convene in a courtyard or a gather elsewhere on the grounds. Classrooms also have advanced AV projection technology that picks up speakers’ voices without having to awkwardly pass a microphone around.

KPMG’s neighbors in the Lake Nona district, a master-planned community being developed by Tavistock Group, include Johnson & Johnson, the US Tennis Association, the Orlando VA Medical Center. “We could have certainly built our own little oasis and put a fence around it,” Turner said. “[But] outside our four walls we have a ready-made community that represents wellness, healthcare, technology, and innovation, which are key to who we are.”