Dan Gilbert, known as the founder of Quicken Loans, is often associated with the city of Cleveland, given his ownership of the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, Gilbert is a Detroit native, and none has worked harder to revitalize downtown Detroit and bring the city back to prominence. Gilbert, through his firm Rock Ventures and other partnerships, has invested millions into Detroit and turned the blighted downtown into a tech-hub with scores of young professionals, a vibrant social scene, and a high-quality life.
And he’s only getting started.
Gilbert was born in the Detroit suburb of Southfield and eventually earned his Bachelor’s from Michigan State University. Following his undergraduate degree, Gilbert would obtain his JD from Wayne State in Detroit. While at Wayne State, he worked for his parents at their Century 21 franchise, where he likely got his first in-depth look into the real estate business.
It was there that Gilbert concluded the real money wasn’t in selling homes but was in financing them. This discovery led to the formation of Rock Financial, which would eventually become one of the largest independent mortgage lenders in the nation before being purchased by Intuit in 2000 and renamed Quicken Loans. In 2002, he would form a syndicate and purchase back Quicken from Intuit.
In 2010, Gilbert moved Quicken headquarters and its 1,700 employees to downtown Detroit and would move 3,600 more employees before the end of that year. Today, the firm has 14,200 team members based in the city. In addition to creating a population surge and a new demographic base with disposable income, ancillary companies formed, and Gilbert would seed many of them through his VC firm, Detroit Venture Partners. Detroit has also reemerged as a destination for graduates from UM, MSU, and beyond who would previously migrate to cities like Chicago or other markets because they lacked a hometown option.
With a newfound pulse and a resurgence in demographics to the once vibrant but struggling city, Gilbert acquired several buildings, renovated the historical structures, and placed tenants – often firms he was involved with – in the premises. The newfound downtown day-population with disposable income and a need for housing would eventually lead to more multi-family and retail demand and development.
Given the city’s struggles and lack of institutional attention resulting in suppressed asset pricing and limited competition, Gilbert has been able to shape the city as he pleases like a child with a real-life model town. It appears as if Gilbert is only getting started, and no sole individual may have shaped a metropolitan city more than he.
We attribute Gilbert’s success to hometown dedication and loyalty, a support network of childhood friends with whom he continues to work, a nostalgia for loyalty and old-school values – perhaps evidenced by his famous open letter to Lebron James – and lots of guts. When everyone doubted Detroit, Gilbert recognized the bones of the historic properties, proximity to universities and talent, and an opportunity to shape the city through his business ventures. By moving his thousands of employees from Quicken Loans into vacant or mostly vacant buildings he could also buy, Gilbert reminded the industry of the relationship between jobs and real estate and created a new city on the infrastructure of a tired one. Now he is building Detroit into a thriving market like iconic industrialists had done generations before him.