Posted: March 17, 2017 by Eli Randel, Director of Business Development
PROFILE OF A LEGEND – THE HOMETOWN HERO – DAN GILBERT
Dan Gilbert is oft-known as the founder of Quicken Loans and sometimes associated with the city of Cleveland given his ownership of the Cleveland Cavaliers, however, Gilbert is a Detroit native and no one individual has done more 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 of life. And he’s only getting started.
Gilbert was born in Detroit suburb, Southfield, and would eventually obtain his bachelor’s degree 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 deep 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 and would form 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: 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, renovate the historical structures, and place tenants – often firms he was involved with – in the buildings. The newfound downtown day-population with disposable income 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 it’s possible no one individual has shaped a major city more than him.
Gilbert’s success can be attributed to hometown dedication and loyalty, a support network of childhood friends who he continues to work with, a nostalgia for loyalty and old-school values perhaps evidenced by his famous open letter to Lebron James, and lots of guts. When everyone was zigging away from Detroit, Gilbert zagged back recognizing the bones of the historic properties, proximity to universities and talent, and a buy opportunity with his power 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 provided a reminder 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 major market like the iconic industrialists had done generations before him.