Business

Russell 900 pack for move

Russell Investments workers have cleaned off their desks and packed their two allotted boxes. This weekend, one of Tacoma’s great business success stories starts its move out of town.

Starting Monday, hundreds of new commuters will head for northbound buses and trains to take them to the company’s new headquarters in Seattle.

So begins a major lifestyle change for the approximately 900 employees of Tacoma’s storied financial services firm, which announced last year that it would leave the city after almost 75 years.

Preparations for the move, which will be done by Oct. 25, have been going on for months. The company recently donated discarded office decorations to Goodwill Industries. On Thursday, it gave about 200 boxes of office supplies, including binders, hole punches and staples, to the Tacoma School District.

The company held at least four transportation fairs for employees to learn more about commuting, and it’s supplying regional transit passes for everyone who wants one.

Russell has issued every employee a laptop with built-in phone service. And it has arranged for a few lifestyle perks, including a $725 rebate for a gym membership and access to discounted child and elder care.

Russell officials also have their eyes on the little things. On Wednesday, workers received canvas bags containing gift certificates to Seattle restaurants, a travel coffee mug, a travel umbrella, hand sanitizer and breath mints.

Details about the company’s efforts came from interviews with several employees, who spoke to The News Tribune on condition their names not be used out of concern for their job security. On Thursday, company spokeswoman Jennifer Tice confirmed the information.

The employees said they like their work but are saddened by the move and the personal upheaval it is causing. Most Russell employees live in Pierce County and have had a 10-to-15-minute, one-way commute. Now it will be more than an hour.

Tice said Thursday the company is doing everything it can to ease the transition, including case-by-case telecommuting and alternative work schedules. Some employees are enthusiastic about the move, she said.

STARTED IN 1936

Russell Investments started in Tacoma in 1936 and became an investing powerhouse under the leadership of George Russell Jr. He sold the firm to insurance giant Northwestern Mutual in 1999 – the year Russell Investments was named one of Fortune Magazine’s “Best Companies to Work For In America.”

In the decade since, Russell has undergone major leadership changes, including three new CEOs.

It also laid off hundreds of employees, shut its hedge fund during the recession and required its parent company to shore up Russell’s money-market fund after it lost hundreds of millions of dollars when Lehman Brothers collapsed.

Despite the turmoil, the company has been one of Tacoma’s premier workplaces.

It was downtown’s largest private employer, and its associates are well-paid and visible members of the community.

“Tacoma and Pierce County are an important part (of) Russell,” Tice said. “It’s a place where many of our associates live and will continue to live. It’s part of our heritage. We’ll continue to be a part of it.

“We’re proud of our associates who give their time, talent, and money to local organizations.”

Tice cited the donation last month of a $500,000 challenge grant to the United Way of Pierce County as an example of the company’s continued commitment to the area.

When Russell announced it was looking for a new headquarters, Tacoma public and private leaders put together a package of about $148 million in incentives.

MOVE ANNOUNCED IN 2009

Three years after the search began, Seattle’s glutted commercial real estate market worked to its advantage. Russell announced in September 2009 that it would move into the old WaMu Center on Second Avenue. JPMorgan Chase got the building when WaMu collapsed, and it sold it to Northwestern Mutual for pennies on the dollar.

Russell will go from its 12-story building at 909 A St. in Tacoma to occupying five floors of a 42-story tower. The building is half leased, The Seattle Times has reported, with tenants including digital-signature company DocuSign, video-game company En Masse Entertainment and department store Nordstrom.

Russell CEO Andrew Doman has said the move to Seattle “will provide the company with access to a large talent pool and will place Russell in the center of a major Pacific Rim city, alongside other like-minded global firms and business pioneers.”

The talent-pool statement particularly irks employees, several said in interviews, because it seems to diminish the talent of those who have worked in Tacoma for years.

MORE COMMUTERS

By Oct. 25, though, those employees will be heading to work in Seattle. Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said the agency, working with Russell, estimates about 700 people will be riding public transportation daily.

To help new commuters, extra transit employees will be in place along the route Monday and Tuesday, and on Oct. 25 and Oct. 26, Reason said.

Sound Transit estimates the buses most affected by new Russell commuters will be those carrying about 100 additional people leaving the Lakewood/University Place/Fircrest area and those moving another 150 people from the Tacoma Dome Station.

“We believe we’ll be able to accommodate them, but the operations people will be watching closely,” Reason said.

For some of the new commuters, finding a place to leave their cars might be the biggest headache. Most days, the parking garage at the Tacoma Dome station already is 90 percent full, Pierce Transit spokesman Lars Erickson said.

One person who has worked for the company for 15 years said he would make the commute until he could find another job. His wife works in Tacoma, and his kids attend school here. He said he knows of only one person moving north.

“Most people are going to tough it out” until a better option comes along, he said, reflecting other employees’ remarks that many people are job-hunting. “We’re an entrenched Tacoma family and we’re not leaving Tacoma.”

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