No Longer Motor City


None of my friends or family quite understand my fascination with the city of Detroit. Maybe this fascination turned borderline obsession could best be explained by this tumblr, which I frequent way too often since Professor Marsh introduced me. As a city that’s literally crumbling to the ground, Detroit fills me with this weird combination of disparity and hope for potential reinvention within its deteriorative state.

To escape the monotony of the Bucknell Bubble, my friend planned a not-so-typical weekend trip for us to see a few good concerts in the Detroit area last spring. The experiences I had with the city are unparalleled to any other city I’ve ever visited. In entering downtown Detroit, this solemn silence arose between us.  As we explored what seemed like the post-apocalyptical streets of Gothem, we passed maybe three or four cars and two streetwalkers within ten minutes of driving. But in exploring Detroit further, the city really grew on me. Maybe it was my fascination with the city’s integral relationship to some of my favorite records, meeting the most inspiring and innovative artist I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to at the Heidelberg Project, or my intuitive passion to support the underdog, but I left wanting to see a success story for the once great city of Detroit.

A large "Opportunity Made In Detroit" banner is seen on the side of one of the buildings owned by Quicken Loans founder Gilbert in downtown DetroitA banner on the facade of a building owned by Quicken Loans
Credit: Rebecca Cook of Reuters

Michigan’s undiversified economic relationship with the auto industry has resulted in the state taking a real hit in the last few decades due to the decline of domestic production. This long and painful decline, associated primarily with Detroit, has been a key factor to Michigan’s mass exodus of educated young people. But those familiar with Detroit’s story know Quicken Loans might be the key to the city’s future revival.

Co-founder Dan Gilbert grew up in a suburb of Detroit and had a mission when he decided to move Quicken Loans headquarter from the Michigan suburbs to the heart of Detroit’s business district in 2010, to give educated young people a reason to stay in Michigan. To incentivize employees to make the move to Detroit, Quicken Loans gave employees $20,000 to buy property in the city with the condition they live in Detroit for five years. If you’ve heard anything about the housing market in cities such as Detroit or Baltimore in current years, you know houses are selling for way lower than $20,000. Quicken employees took advantage of this opportunity which helped surge positive transformation in the depressed downtown and midtown areas of Detroit, boosting occupancy rates tremendously. Gilbert and Quicken have also heavily invested in diversifying Detroit’s economic interests by starting Webward Avenue, a technology startup incubator. Most recently, Gilbert has made headlines by fronting a large portion of the $140 million M-1 Rail Line construction costs that has employed thousands of people since starting construction in late July.


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Picture of Co-founder Dan Gilbert in NYT Article 

Dan Guilbert has already won the prestigious title of Detroiter of the Year back in 2011, but if you ask me, I think Dan Gilbert and Quicken Loans should be inducted into the Stakeholder Value Maximization Hall of Fame if one were to ever exist. The way they are able to mesh social responsibility and stakeholder value has extraordinarily continued to create and maximize long-term value for thousands of stakeholders directly affected by Quicken and thousands more outside residually. Gilbert and Quicken’s institutional logics have created the perfect storm for revamping Detroit to be multifaceted way beyond its Motor City past.

But does a good employer lead to good outcomes? Well, what is a good employer? I feel the concept of a “good” employer is an ambiguous cloud of possibilities, only definable by what a person seeks to get out of the workplace. I would argue institutional logics and “good” intensions that are inline with stakeholders’ purposes lead to both a good employer and good outcomes. I think what differentiates Quicken Loan’s as a great employer is they not only abide by my previous definition of a good employer, but seek to create long-term value for people and businesses beyond their umbrella of presumed responsibility.

Without Dan Guilbert and Quicken Loans’ influence, maybe Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr’s “We Almost Lost Detroit” would have had a different name ?

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9 thoughts on “No Longer Motor City”

  1. I see Quicken’s initiatives as patriotic and groundbreaking. Many companies will control their employees with similar contracts, and in a city like Detroit, requiring employees to live there only fosters development.

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    1. When I first read your comment, I read patriotic as paternalistic and groundbreaking. I am conflicted when a company imposes its values onto its employees, especially in the extreme way that this company has done. While in this case, the outcomes have generally been positive for the company and the city, is it appropriate for all companies to incentivize change in this way?

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  2. Is a good person working for a company the same thing as working for a good company? How can we be sure that Guilbert’s actions are made real (institutionalized) in Quicken Loans mission statement, goals and actions? Offering the incentive to work in the city is a good start, but how does that translate to the purpose of Quicken Loans? I guess I am just wondering if this company will still be celebrated with a different person at the head of the company.

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  3. Liz, to you first question, definitely not. I had a hard time deciphering who was the better influence on who in Quicken and Guilbert’s relationship. I’m not completely confident saying Quicken Loans would be as celebrated or would have actualized to the amount it has as a business without Guilbert as CEO. Quicken Loans’ has served as an ideal platform for Guilbert’s intuitive paternalistic nature over securing Detroit and Michigan’s future. I can’t say this would have been as viable if Guilbert was CEO of a company in another sector. I could not find an explicit mission statement or purpose on Quicken Loans’ website, but their culture section (http://www.quickenloanscareers.com/about/culture/) does not specifically outline anything out of the ordinary to me. Businesses crumble all the time when the new management takes over. Sure, once the architect of the company’s original purpose is no longer there to enforce it, it’s inevitable change will occur. In no way do I feel comfortable saying Quickens’ future is secure as a mortgage lender tomorrow, in five years or once Guilbert steps down from CEO. But if Guilbert were to start a new company in a new sector, would he still be able to translate his intuitive paternalistic nature over securing Detroit and Michigan’s future?

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