Career Education Corp. Benefits from Downturn

Article excerpt

Byline: Anna Marie Kukec Daily Herald Business Writer

Business profile

Name: John M. Larson, chairman, president and chief executive officer

Age: 49

Business: Career Education Corp.

Location: Headquarters in Hoffman Estates; 38

campuses in 15 states, Canada, England and Dubai

Web site:

Net income: $21 million in 2000

Philosophy: "We are a dynamic educational services company committed to quality, career-focused learning led by passionate professionals who inspire individual worth and lifelong achievement."

John M. Larson may be the only executive these days who can go to sleep at night and not worry about the economic downturn.

While the economy wreaks havoc on numerous companies, Hoffman Estates-based Career Education Corp. has actually benefited.

"This is a time when many people are laid off and need to update their skills or get new training," said Larson. "People are searching for something more in their lives, and today has been a great time to go back to school."

In fact, 38 CEC campuses worldwide have 33,000 students, compared to 29,000 in 2000, and 22,500 in 1999.

The seven-year-old company continues to grow, acquiring educational facilities, including the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, which features the famed LeCordon Bleu cooking program.

Besides culinary arts, CEC schools target information technology, visual communication and design technologies, as well as business.

Its post-secondary schools offer diplomas for completing short- term programs as well as associate, bachelor and master degrees.

Growth has been consistent for the publicly-traded, for-profit educational company. Last year, net income was $21 million, more than twice that of 1999.

CEC has become one of the nation's top three educational services companies for private, post-secondary education, rivaling Apollo with the University of Phoenix and Oakbrook Terrace-based DeVry Inc.

In fact, Larson garnered some of his marketing experience while on staff at DeVry. He worked for other educational institutions until 1993, when he decided to start his own business.

"At the time, I was 41 and felt that if I didn't do this now, I'd never do it," Larson recalled about starting CEC. "I discussed the idea with my wife Debby, who shared my vision. She said, 'Go for it. Just don't mortgage the house.'"

He used about $200,000 of their own money, then pitched his business plan to some venture capitalists. Heller Equity Capital Corp. stepped up with about $7 million, Larson said. …