When Robert Holderith, a former UBS executive and ETF investment expert, set out to establish a new asset management firm from scratch, he says he knew the workspace needed a creative touch.

Today Holderith's startup firm, Emerging Global Advisors, occupies a busy office in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood, where a handful of staff sit in one open-plan, cubicle-free room. The setting allows everyone from the firm's executives — including Holderith and Chief Executive Marten Hoekstra, former CEO of UBS Wealth Management Americas — to the national sales manager and staff to hear each other's conversations.

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