In Episode 102 of Inside the Marketplace, Priest talks with Bob Glazier (Managing Director of Acceleration Partners and Chairman of BrandCycle) about a myriad of topics but the one that is the overarching theme is culture. Culture in the workplace can mean a lot of things.
For team members maybe that culture is how they are treated… do they truly have an open door for continuous feedback? Can they present new ideas both for innovations within the business or even suggestions to affect the product types you offer? Does your company try to keep the workplace fun and vibrant and energetic and are you achieving that with different pay incentives or even food at work, etc?
For a company though it’s a balancing act. You have to determine quickly, what is the overall goal you’re trying to achieve and then determine the pathway for your culture. If culture is just a PR ploy to show off how cool and hip your company is, that’s certainly doable with some splashes of color around the office, some free stuff for employees and a lot of popular music playing everywhere you look. It presents a front about what you want your business to be perceived as and might even work to attract talent who are burned out of the regular corporate workplace as well as tons of young kids fresh out of college who often give more weight to fun over even things like pay and benefits at times.
That perception of culture that you’re putting out there is fairly hollow though if that’s all you’re looking to present. Where is the voice for your team members? Do they have a real stake in the future of the company or are they going to be frowned upon if they have real, tough feedback about things that could be better at the company? How does your company look in comparison to the demographics of your community? Are you diverse in the complete sense where there’s a solid mix of people early, mid and late career so that there’s a proper learning eco system for everyone at every level? Are there legitimate opportunities for Women, Minorities and LGBTQ people? Do those opportunities include management level roles?
Beyond this, you should consider your company’s role in your community. Are you there just to hire some people and make money or can you truly contribute to the success and rise in your community? More and more companies are offering volunteer hours as benefits or have a company that throws some tax deductible funds around here and there. What is the goal there? Are you truly looking to build more than just your own spot or are you looking for some good PR and a tax break?
Dan Gilbert, who is probably the most extreme example here, coined a bit of a phrase last year called “More Than Profit”. His main business is Quicken Loans, the online mortgage company that has surpassed Wells Fargo to be the top lender in the country. The company’s rise and success has boosted Gilbert’s profile and success and it’s spun off to dozens of other business start ups or even a few acquisitions. Quicken Loans led to purchasing Title Source (now Amrock), the largest title company in the country. That success led him to be able to buy the Cleveland Cavaliers and the former Gund Arena (now Quicken Loans Arena) and ride the ups and downs of a Comic Sans laden relationship with Lebron James.
In all of this success, Dan turned his attention to his home area of Detroit, Michigan. Detroit as an area is huge. Once one of the largest metropolitan areas in America, Detroit had well over 1.8 million residents and had a total area large enough to fit San Francisco and Boston inside of it. As the decades after the Detroit riots led to a downturn in the city which was economically impacted by the Big Three automakers slowly but surely pushing jobs overseas or in Mexico for cheaper labor, the population plummeted. Down to around 700,000 (a loss of 61% of the population), companies had spent a considerable amount of time abandoning the downtown area. As in most cities, the downtown lost it’s flagship department store in Hudson’s by the early 1980s (this was not totally uncommon with Gimbells doing the same to Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, Higbees and May in Cleveland, Marshall Fields in Chicago, etc) but the store leaving sort of left the downtown area fairly empty.
Enter Dan. Knowing Detroit could make a comeback he started buying up abandoned skyscrapers left and right. Usually for extremely cheap prices (some were sold in a buy one get one free style believe it or not – anything to offload the tax burdens of these abandoned buildings) of a million here, a couple million there. For you and I, a million dollars is a LOT of money but when you have a thriving mortgage business that is quickly jumping up the rankings of home loans provided thanks to a loan process that utilizes technology for quicker turnarounds – well that’s money you can afford to reinvest. Before you knew it, Dan was announcing Quicken was leaving the suburbs of Livonia and Troy and occupying space in the very downtown buildings he was buying. He started a company specifically to rebuild and manage all of these properties called Bedrock. Building by building he was renovating all of the downtown spots. Putting in brand new restaurants and retail downstairs, with office space and apartment spaces on the higher floors. Detroit’s downtown core transformed dramatically from 2011-2017 and now the former Hudson’s site is under construction for the largest building in Michigan, a building some are calling a city within a city.
Now it would be easy to see the benefit here. Dan now owns most of downtown Detroit and will reap the benefits of it’s revival. That’s a somewhat simplistic view of a more complex issue. Of course Dan is going to make more money in the process of buying and revitalizing downtown Detroit but he has actually sold some buildings back to other companies he’s lured into town. He’s been the primary spokesperson in working to bring other companies into the area which has created a hiring boom over the past few years for Detroit residents. This allows them to take their efforts further. He’s worked with the city on the Blight Project, an effort to raze abandoned homes in neighborhoods that were pretty much demolished by the city falling apart. He’s used his QL team members like a volunteer army, having them spend tens of thousands of hours (on the clock at QL) to volunteer in neighborhood revitalization projects or with shelters, food banks or veterans groups. When the city needed funding for the light rail train, Dan stepped up and helped fund the project. In all company meetings with the nearly 18,000 Quicken team members, Dan told them that his motive is to be More than Profit. Detroit is his home and he takes pride in rebuilding the community into something the area residents can take pride in.
They’re not even close to done with their mission. You’re seeing a lot more business float up the Woodward corridor to around Midtown and that’s a good start but it’s those outer bands of the city between Midtown and the Suburbs where people left and may never come back that might be the tricky part. With downtown prices going up as the destination becomes more and more full, the future growth of the city especially as an up and coming tech hub may rely on growth beyond mid-town. Turns out you can do a lot in your community to rebuild, provide housing, jobs and even programs for young people (QL has often worked with other area tech firms to provide STEM opportunities as well) and it doesn’t just have to be about PR or even specifically for your company directly. Not everything QL does affects them directly either. However it’s hard not to look at what’s happened in Detroit and think of their impact on such changes. Ultimately that might be far greater than any tax benefit a donation might bring.
Better yet, that whole ‘let’s make Detroit into a tech hub’ thing (we actually discuss this a bit further on our podcast with Cheryl Miller Houser) will always have some QL finger prints on it. While Google was selectively choosing less than a single handful of spots to build out a high speed fiber network, they passed on Detroit. So someone at Quicken Loans put the idea into the innovation hub they host to give their team members a voice and a stake in their future. That idea made it past initial vetting, went to their version of Google’s 20% Time (innovation time) to prove the concept out a bit more, went in front of Dan and was greenlit. Now most of Detroit has access to the fastest internet in the state, Rocket Fiber, at costs well below the cable monopoly alternatives.
Those tech companies will love having that to play with.