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Originally published November 3, 2010 at 5:37 PM | Page modified November 4, 2010 at 6:48 AM

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Russell Investments settles in, with ultramodern digs in downtown Seattle

Russell Investments CEO Andrew Doman has the corner, but not the office. On the gleaming, ultramodern 16th floor of the company's new Seattle...

Seattle Times deputy business editor

Russell Investments CEO Andrew Doman has the corner, but not the office.

On the gleaming, ultramodern 16th floor of the company's new Seattle headquarters, he works at desk number 16W 61.24.

One of six attached and anonymous workstations where two walls of view windows meet, it's part of a larger array of desks that's marked only by a blue pillar labeled "Office of CEO."

Nearby are small "privacy rooms," as well as long white slabs called "collaboration bars," where two to six employees can grab bar stools and hold an impromptu meeting. There's a lot of glass and a lot of technology, but few closed doors.

Russell moved its 900 employees into these open-plan offices over the past couple of weeks, uprooting the company from its longtime place as Tacoma's largest private employer and chief tenant of its most visible office building.

Its new roost on Second Avenue, formerly called the WaMu Center, was acquired by Russell parent Northwestern Mutual in September 2009 for a bargain price a year after regulators seized Washington Mutual. The 42-story building is now the Russell Investments Center.

At Wednesday's ceremonial opening, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn acknowledged that for many employees the new commute means "very significant personal change."

Doman said almost all of Russell's Tacoma employees followed their jobs to Seattle, but more than 500 still live south of Federal Way.

The new work layout is also a big change, he said.

"Getting people to give up the trappings of hierarchy is very difficult," he said.

But collecting the employees on four floors instead of a dozen, putting all desks in the open and wiring the place with the latest networking technology was crucial "so we can exchange ideas more quickly around the world," he said.

The 160 people on Russell's trading floor have screens that can speedily connect up to 20 people for a video conference, said Doman. In trading stocks and bonds across the world's markets, "microseconds count."

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Doman and architects from Seattle's NBBJ visited a half-dozen corporate headquarters, from Bloomberg in New York to Telenor in Norway, as they developed plans for the space.

The high-tech touches include lobbies with artsy "data walls" that turn information into animation: real-time prices of commodities, currencies and stocks projected in a colorful abstract flow. Halls are lined with a scallopy porcelain-white texture, connecting conference rooms named after mountains — Rainier, Kilimanjaro, Ararat.

Russell spent more than $145 per square foot to upgrade and equip its new headquarters, said Doman. For the roughly 200,000-square-foot space, that's about $29 million.

Russell occupies part of a fifth floor for meeting rooms. But all its space is relatively low in the office tower, not the high-priced real estate at the top.

Best-known for its many stock indexes, the multifaceted financial company directly manages $149 billion in assets as of Sept. 30. It's also the world's seventh-largest institutional-investment consultant, according to the trade publication "Pensions & Investments."

Russell has cut hundreds of employees worldwide during the recession, and it has tripped on some diversification efforts, such as its abortive move into hedge funds.

Doman acknowledged that one current focus, making Russell-branded exchange-traded funds available to U.S. investors, has taken longer than anticipated.

"The SEC process can be lengthy," he said.

But Doman said Russell, which has 1,800 employees worldwide, will add 100 more by year-end. It opened new offices this year in South Korea, Taiwan, Dubai and Milan, and established a joint venture in China.

Overall, Doman said, "Russell is a thriving, growing company."

There's one building improvement Russell still wants to see: a company sign atop the building.

McGinn drew applause for saying he'll support a change in city regulations to allow that. "I think it's OK for a big city to say, 'Commerce happens here,' " he said.

City Council President Richard Conlin, who also addressed the gathering, said the council will have a hearing on the proposed ordinance next month.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

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