Dan Gilbert, Chairman of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans and majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, speaks with Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick about how Detroit can make a comeback. Read excerpts from the conversation below, or download the full transcript.
Kirkpatrick: You said Quicken Loans is a technology company that just happens to do loans. It’s a very smart way to think about any company.
Gilbert: Technology has completely transformed our company. It has become our company. We process and close loans in 3,000 counties and in 50 states out of a centralized environment. And everything moves with technology and by technology. What we sell is a commoditized product that’s not a real physical product. We’re going to beat everybody by having a great experience for our clients, which is definitely pushed through by technology.
Kirkpatrick: Do you agree with our argument that the pace of change is accelerating to the point that a dangerous number of leaders don’t get that?
Gilbert: There’s no question about it. We’ve seen it in industry after industry. You only have to look at the newspaper industry, you only have to look at the automobile industry a couple years back, and obviously they’ve come a long way, but they had to go through a major transformation to get there. You’ve got to be able to make decisions way faster than you used to. If you paid people for the value of their judgment, especially leadership, and they’re not willing to judge, then you probably shouldn’t be paying them.
Kirkpatrick: Why have you made such a big set of commitments to downtown Detroit?
Gilbert: We came down originally in Peter Karmanos’s building, the Compuware building, which is a beautiful building built in 2003. If it wasn’t for him, there’s just no way we would be down here because he helped in recruiting us and he had that great attractive building. We felt that to continue to grow and to make sure all of our people who were in various locations in the suburbs would be excited about coming down here, we had to get our hands on some of the real estate.
The good news for us is there was a skyscraper sale going on. It only happens once every several hundred years or so. A few of them were on eBay. We bid them up a little bit, but they were there. They were beautiful, older buildings, built by some great architects that just needed a little bit of love. We were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, so we bought these buildings and in no time our team was able to make them into something that’s 21st Century technology, and we moved everybody down.
Kirkpatrick: So what is the next stage for downtown and Detroit more broadly?
Gilbert: Every day we’re just trying to improve things, trying to take advantage of opportunities. If there’s a way to convince others that have nothing to do with our businesses why it’s a great thing for you and your business to be downtown, we’ll participate in that. If others were to come down here and join us or move parts of their organization here or open up their next new office down here, they’re going to be ahead. When people can get in at a fairly decent price and they’re not restrained from creating things, great things can happen in a short period of time.
There is a lot of capital around this area that really should be put to use for their own good and for the city’s good. It’s going to be a great return. They are going to make a lot of money in the long run and maybe even in the medium-term run by an investment in the city.
You can feel the energy. The companies are here now, and there are more coming and jobs are coming. We are all the time trying to talk to residential developers and retailers to get as much done at the same time. Because the demand is there.
There’s some huge sort of ingrained challenges. We all know what they are. They’re education and crime that comes from maybe not having as good of an education system as we need to.
But these are being addressed. I think the main thing here from the city of Detroit’s standpoint, and with Mayor Bing and the council, is finally we are addressing the financial cloud that was overhead for years and decades that was never dealt with before. Although it’s not completely addressed yet, it is finally happening and being addressed. Because without getting the city’s finances in order first, none of that other stuff can start to happen and be addressed.
But our mission is downtown, the heartbeat of the city. I don’t think neighborhoods could flourish in any big city without a strong downtown.