Crains Detroit Newsmaker of the Year

Detroit needs entrepreneurs, and he’s put serious money into getting them started,   that’s why Dan Gilbert is Crain’s 2006 Newsmaker of the year. For those of you not familiar, Dan Gilbert is the chairman and founder of Quicken loans.  Mr. Gilbert is also the majority owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, employs over 5,000 people through several of his businesses, one of which (Quicken Loans, Inc.) was ranked a top 15 “Best Place to Work” in America by FORTUNE magazine for the past three years and ranked the #1 place to work for technology employees in the United Stated by Computerworld Magazine two years in a row (2005 & 2006).

Dan grew up in Michigan, still lives here and is involved in several current business ventures.  One noteworthy initiative, in November 2006 Dan announced that he had formed and funded ($10 million) Bizdom U, an entrepreneurial academy that opened its doors in January in rented space at Wayne State University.  Bizdom U is a two-year program to teach entrepreneurship to area residents so they can start businesses in the city of Detroit.  Gilbert will pay for students housing, meals and lend them a laptop and blackberry.  Bizdom U will also fund some startups with investments ranging from $25K to $500K with the academy retaining an equity position in the successful businesses in order to provide seed money for more startups.  Much more information on Mr. Gilbert can be found online, just google him for a more in depth background.

A few of us attended this years Newsmaker of the year luncheon at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center.  After a quick bite, Dan took the stage and after a few thank you’s got right into his presentation.  He started off with his company’s guiding principals, he referred to as “ISMS”.  He went on to explain how there are is no “secret sauce” in the success he (and his organizations) have achieved, slighting other organizations with “proprietary success formulas” or more specifically, local auto companies that are struggling to find their way.  It all starts and ends with… Culture, Environment and Philosophy.

Dan went on to explain how his organizations greatly empower its employees to “do the right thing”, challenge one another and how all the little things can add up and contribute toward achieving truly great things.  He then showcased several items employees themselves uncovered, helping the organization become better.  One example was of overflowing dumpsters, a new hire had noticed clear trash bags being used to contain lots of company documents that were over-flowing the dumpsters.  Not only was this unsightly, but the bags made it easy to identify potentially confidential paperwork (which could lead to identity theft) – which ultimately lead to improved shredding practices.

Additionally, Dan breathed life into several other “ISMs” such as:

  • Always raising the levels of awareness – They expect all team members to notice what’s going on around them.
  • The inches we need are everywhere around us – opportunities to make a difference are everywhere, and usually they’re found in the little things.
  • Responding with a sense of urgency is the ante to play – on their team they return all phone calls and emails the same day.  Not just clients and partners, but to each other!  They kill each other with courtesy… and very quickly.
  • Every client.  Every time.  No exceptions.  No excuses – clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  • Obsessed with finding a better way – don’t settle.  If its good, make it great.  If its great, lets take it to an even higher level.
  • Ignore the noise – don’t take your eyes off the ball.  Tune out the bad days, obstacles and naysayers.
  • Its not about WHO is right, but WHAT is right – it doesn’t matter where ideas come from, what matters is which idea is the right idea.  Egos (or lack therof) are checked at the door.
  • We are the “they” – there is no “they”. “They” does not exist.  We are the “they”.  One team. United.  All in this mission together.
  • You have to take the roast out of the oven – wrap it up.  Finish the job.  Execute!  Over-analyzing can kill an idea and possibly make you miss an opportunity.
  • You’ll see it when you believe it – do you believe it? Then you can make it happen.  It doesn’t work the other way around.
  • Every second counts – Time, not money, is the most valuable commodity of all.  It can never be replaced.
  • A penny saved is a penny – choose to make your time valuable.  Spend it chasing pennies and you will find pennies.  Spend it on ideas, innovation, developing your talent, design, marketing, technology, and you will find a lot more than pennies.
  • Eat your our own dog food – We should be our companies biggest fans, referring others and providing the best possible products, services and places to work.
  • Simplicity is genius – If Forrest Gump or your 87-year-old Grandfather can’t understand it, then don’t say it. You don’t need to be complicated to be great!
  • Innovation is rewarded.  Execution is worshipped – a great idea is just the first step.  The real magic is bringing that idea to life with great execution.
  • Do the right thing – the high road is not a short cut.  Stick to the highest standard of integrity, without compromise.  And remember, character is what you do when no one is looking over your shoulder! 

In summary, the presentation was very good.  In fact, even an eye opener for lots of us, consistent with other great leaders, many of the things that make organizations successful are well known, discipline and the intent to “do the right thing”  should be enough to overcome most obstacles, even those found in our struggling automotive sector. 

Michigan needs more guys like Dan, more companies that operate by these philosophies and most importantly, an increase in the diversity of job providers. Michiganians have a lot to offer, skilled trades, strong work ethic and passion to name a few. I look forward to the day Michigan can offer an environment worthy of top-notch talent, keeping our graduates here and providing new, thriving industries (other than automotive.)

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