Not Finding the Brain


Leslie HelmAsk an employee how your company should be structured. She is liable to describe an organization with a clear hierarchy. Now ask her what environment she would like to work in. She’s likely to describe a looser environment that would allow her greater autonomy.

The reason for this paradox, says Andrew Doman, CEO of Russell Investments, is that most of us tend to hold to the conventional view that hierarchical organizations are more efficient. But if you want to attract creative people and make the best use of their talents, explains Doman, you need to create an organization in which the ability to analyze information and craft innovative solutions is dispersed throughout the organization.

“Not being able to find the brain in an organization,” says Doman, “that’s the test. If you can find the brain, you are in trouble.”

When Russell Investments moves into its new digs in Seattle later this month, the move will represent not just a geographic change in headquarters, but also a step in the company’s own cultural transformation. All employees—even lawyers—will work in large, open workspaces. Everything from hallways to computer technologies will be designed to encourage interaction and collaboration among employees from every department. New technology, for example, will allow employees to make video calls with ease to fellow employees and to customers wherever in the world they may be. Projects will be tackled by teams drawn from Russell offices across the globe.

This collaborative, anti-hierarchical approach to management was inspired by the theories of Henry Mintzberg, an expert in business management and organization, which Doman studied in business school. But the approach comes naturally to Doman, who was raised in the Australian outback where his father was a rancher. Doman also became a doctor before entering the financial industry. As deputy director of a teaching hospital in Sydney, he learned that conventional management approaches weren’t up to the task of responding to his hospital’s many constituencies, from doctors to nonprofits and city council members.

Doman will apply his management expertise to explore new ways to make our region a strong financial center. Singapore surpassed Hong Kong in part, he says, by allocating a chunk of its state pension funds to qualified asset managers who set up operations locally. Perhaps Washington state might consider this approach. He also plans to lecture at the UW’s Foster School of Business.

Doman is a reminder of the importance of diversity. Ethnic and gender diversity is necessary, certainly. But it’s also vital to have people from many geographic areas with different educational backgrounds. Doman likes to talk about how conversations lead to innovations. We are lucky to have him join the conversation as we look for new ways to strengthen our business community as a national center of innovation.

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Leslie D. Helm