Gavilon showcases new downtown Omaha headquarters with plenty of room to grow

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Posted: Monday, February 10, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 3:45 am, Sat Oct 11, 2014.

Spare furnishings are now the only thing on the fifth floor of Gavilon's new downtown Omaha headquarters, but the extra space reveals the firm's ambitions for growth.

The commodities trading firm's offices, opened to guests Monday for a symbolic bell-ringing ceremony, were built for as many as 750 employees, though 400 now report to work there.

Gavilon CEO Greg Heckman and Marubeni Chairman Teruo Asada said Monday that Marubeni plans to invest up to $2 billion in its agriculture business over the next three years. That could buy new elevators, terminals and ocean-going vessels to expand grain trading capacity.

Including the July purchase of Gavilon, Marubeni handles more than 55 million tons of grain annually and is competing to meet growing demand for feed, fuel and food in developing countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and northern Africa.

“Marubeni is counting on us to help them continue the fantastic growth they've had,” Heckman said.

The new building's design is already helping employees do their jobs more efficiently, workers said Monday. Construction at 1331 Capitol Ave. started in 2012 and Gavilon employees moved in in December, across downtown from their former offices on the ConAgra Foods campus. Formerly known as ConAgra Trade Group, Gavilon spun off from ConAgra in 2008 and in July was sold to Japanese general trading firm Marubeni for $2.8 billion.

The focal point of the headquarters is the open, 35,000-square-foot trading floor, where 340 employees work in clusters: grain, ingredients and fertilizer trading, along with business development, risk management, hedging and operations.

Unlike in the old, 23,000-square-foot trading floor, no columns break up the view or interrupt the commodities conversation, said senior merchandiser Andy Knutson, with Gavilon for 14 years. Still, 22-foot ceilings and the carpeted floor keep the sound level low even with multiple conversations and phone calls taking place at the same time.

“Anything that makes my information flow quicker is going to make me more profitable,” Knutson said.

Traders sit in ergonomic Herman Miller chairs at long U-shaped tables, each with four computer monitors suspended from adjustable frames. Knutson uses his four screens to chart wheat quotes, execute electronic trades and track other commodities data as he discerns the price direction of wheat. His screens are connected by high-speed fiber optic cables to the firm's virtual desktop system.

The virtual desktop, which eliminates the need for desktop hard drives, helps cut power use to about one-third of the typical trading floor, said Butch Bennison, Gavilon's director of IT operations.

The physical structure also contributes to energy savings, Bennison said. The trading floor sits above the water lines in the basement parking deck roof, which help heat the concrete and air above them, he said.

The entire trading floor sits on a platform structure suspended over that floor, with networking cables and air ducts neatly tucked away below decks. Above, ceiling panels are set at an angle so light filters through the room without producing a glare on computer monitors. Electronically operated blinds filter the morning sun pouring in through the building's eastern wall.

The open concept extends to the firm's human resources, legal, accounting and technology offices, where sensitive paperwork is locked up but employees do business at desks without cubicle walls. When employees want to gather for a meeting, they can choose among conference rooms named for Gavilon locations (“Tokyo,” “Omaha”), commodities exchanges and products (“Corn”), or can sit in open “huddle rooms” furnished with bar stools and banquettes. No need to bring along a laptop — workers can log into their own accounts from computers right in the conference rooms.

Completing the sleek, charcoal-toned headquarters are executive conference rooms, a fifth-floor balcony with a view of TD Ameritrade Park, a cafeteria with pizza, coffee, salad and sandwich stations, and an exercise room with the latest cardio equipment. Employees can pay for lunch with their security badge card, linked to a personal account.

The $44 million, five-story structure was built by Opus Development and has since been sold to an affiliate of Lexington Realty Trust, a single-tenant real estate investment trust, which leases to Gavilon under a long-term agreement.

Monday, traders continued working amid remarks from Heckman, Gov. Dave Heineman, Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce President David Brown and others.

Heckman picked up a mallet and delivered 21 strikes to a big bell, symbolically opening trading, as several hundred employees and guests joined in, jingling miniature bells to celebrate the company's move.

Marubeni's Asada traveled from Tokyo for the occasion and presented Gavilon with artwork depicting Mount Fuji.

Observing that Gavilon's corporate symbol is a hawk, Asada said that in Japanese tradition it's considered good luck to dream of eggplants, hawks and Mount Fuji.

Addressing employees, he said, “I hope this new headquarters is a symbol of Gavilon's future success.”

Correction: The size of Gavilon's previous trading floor was listed incorrectly in a previous version of this story.

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