Tomra Russell, right, who leads Haskell’s Governmental Design Division, was recently promoted to Vice President. She is pictured with her husband, Ken; son, Dylan; and daughter, Kyler.

November 27, 2023

Visionary Leadership: Crafting Tomorrow’s Government Environments

Discover how Tomra Russell's unique perspective as a Navy spouse and design expert fueled her design success and led to a new role as Vice President.


As Governmental Design Director for Benham, a Haskell Company, Tomra Russell has overseen Haskell projects for numerous federal agencies and all branches of the military and government entities.

Bringing to the job the skill of a registered architect and the sensibilities of a Navy wife, Russell was recently promoted to Vice President, the company announced.

She grew up in a small Kansas town and decided to become an architect because she was good at math and science and liked to create things.

During the admissions process at Kansas State University, an associate dean suggested she might be better suited as an interior designer because the architecture program was difficult and had a high dropout rate.

Russell decided to prove him wrong. She and six other women graduated, and she was at the top of her class.

A year before graduating, Russell had another meeting with the associate dean, who complimented her on excellent grades. She told him about his suggestion that she switch to interior design. He was embarrassed and apologized.

“I thanked him for giving me that edge,” Russell said.

In 2000, Russell and her husband, Ken, were living in Pensacola, where he was in Officer Candidate School and flight training, and she was an architecture intern. Ken graduated at the top of his class and was allowed to pick his first assignment. Tomra had wanted to go to Seattle or San Diego, but her husband picked Oklahoma City.

“I’d say he dragged me there kicking and screaming, but it was the best thing for my career,” Russell said. “I got a job with Benham. We were there for six years, and I got to prove what I could do to Benham. When my husband got transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, to serve on the USS Harry S Truman, Benham didn’t want to lose me, and I became the first remote employee before it was a thing.”

In Norfolk, Russell became a project manager responsible for Navy projects.

“I got thrown into DOD [Department of Defense] work, and here I am to this day. I love federal, especially DOD work,” she said. “As a military spouse, I have an affinity for tight budgets and schedules. It’s always a challenge, but we are providing for our men and women in uniform. How can that not be fulfilling? It’s not always sexy, but it’s always challenging.”

Russell still works remotely from Gulf Breeze, outside Pensacola, where her husband recently relinquished command of Air Wing 6. He retires in December.

She oversees about 100 people in the Government Design Division, primarily in the Oklahoma City office. In addition to DOD projects, the division does work for the Federal Aviation Administration, Homeland Security and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, among other agencies. The division also designs projects for the City of Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Airport Trust, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Oklahoma Military Department and the Oklahoma National Guard.

One of their current projects is for the Corp of Engineers at Space Force in Mobile, Alabama, where they are building a high-security communications facility.

As vice president, Russell said she would like to see her division grow into new areas and projects.

“I like to brag about our team. They are the best of the best,” she said. “Our clients come to think of us as leading experts, and contractors want to work with us. As a project manager, a customer’s project manager once told me he liked working with our team because he knew it would be smooth sailing and he could focus on one of his problem projects. I want to have that reputation.”

Haskell offers clients the assurance that their projects will be completed safely, on time, within budget and with the least possible risk exposure. Contact us to discuss your facilities needs.

Haskell delivers $2± billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,200 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

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