The Top 25
Chairman, Quicken Loans
The Power 100 List
Greater Akron, Cuyahoga County, Lake County, Lorain County, Mahoning Valley
#1 Sandy Cutler,
Chairman and CEO,
#3 Christopher Connor,
Chairman and CEO,
The Sherwin-Williams Co.
#6 Anthony Alexander,
President and CEO, FirstEnergy Corp.
In Good Health
#6 Thomas Zenty,
CEO, University Hospitals
#13 Beth Mooney,
President, COO, and incoming chairman and CEO, KeyCorp
County Executive Ed FitzGerald talks economic development
Women on Power
Five women on our list provide their views
Good Years, Bad Years
Tracking ups and downs
How Novembers winds blew in change
2010 Honorees who didn't
make the list
Quicken Loans’ new offices in downtown Detroit look like a collaboration between Willy Wonka and a tech nerd: scratch-and-sniff wallpaper, graffiti art in hallways, coffee bars and TV lounges, panoramic balconies, and conference-room windows revealing spectacular skyscraper views.
This August, company founder Dan Gilbert brought 1,700 employees from suburban Livonia to Detroit’s Compuware building, triggering a burst of activity in downtown’s restaurants, stores and parks that many metro Detroiters couldn’t have imagined even 15 years ago. One of Gilbert’s “Isms,” the 18 corporate mantras he distributes to all new employees, reads, “You’ll see it when you believe it.” Another goes, “Numbers and money follow; they do not lead.” His ability to imagine and to defy past trends has made Gilbert one of Detroit’s most influential CEOs.
“People in their 20s, coming out of college, they overwhelmingly want to live, work and play in an urban core,” Gilbert says. “That’s why states like Michigan and Ohio are losing so many talented, wealth-creating people to New York, Boston — and South Beach, if you will.”
So Gilbert and a few CEO friends, including Compuware’s Pete Karmanos Jr. and racing mogul Roger Penske, are doing their part to give Detroit the vitality other big American cities still possess. Gilbert recently re-christened Detroit’s main street, Woodward Avenue,
“WEBward Avenue,” reflecting his aspiration of getting dozens of tech companies to cluster around Quicken Loans and Compuware.
“We want to get it to where normal market forces take over, and anyone in technology will want to get there,” he says.
To that end, Gilbert and Penske are leading a public-private partnership to establish a light-rail line on Woodward Avenue, which would be the equivalent of Cleveland CEOs footing most of the bill for trains on Euclid.
His decision to move Quicken Loans downtown made Gilbert a major power player in the city. He courted former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s help in making the relocation happen. When Kilpatrick flamed out in a 2008 corruption and perjury scandal, Gilbert and his business allies promised to loan the mayor’s family $240,000 if he resigned, a controversial move he defended as necessary to bring Detroit’s nightmare to an end.
Now, Gilbert and Mayor Dave Bing are working closely on the light-rail project and the next phase of Quicken Loans’ relocation. The mayor, a former NBA star and businessman, has also been a guest speaker at Gilbert’s entrepreneur school, Bizdom U.
“I was born and raised in Detroit,” Gilbert says. “So were my father and grandfather. They had small businesses in the city, [a saloon and a car wash]. I want to be one of the people to bring it back in a big way.”
Cleveland’s casino exists only in a video for now, but as we glide past it like robot birds along a virtual Huron Road, one thing is clear: It doesn’t look like Vegas at all.
Glitzy, flashy, radiant with the glow of money, sure. But also surprisingly inviting, with a plaza and patio umbrellas and a glass-walled lounge and a cavalcade of chic fashion stores all facing the street: a sort of neo-Rodeo Drive on the Cuyahoga.
“Most casinos, I think, are done wrong and put in the wrong place,” says Dan Gilbert, Cavaliers owner, Quicken Loans founder, and principal of the Rock Gaming casino venture. “They’re not in an urban core, where you create excitement and synergy.”
The usual strategy of blocking patrons from the outside world so they gamble more offends Gilbert’s sense of how a city should work. “We want it to be two-way traffic,” he says. “We’re not looking to create a bunkerlike casino.”
Sure, Gilbert stands to make scads of cash off his Cleveland casino, but its design also fits his urban vision. He thinks Cleveland’s future, like his native Detroit’s, depends on building a strong downtown where young, smart, talented people want to live and work. That drives Gilbert’s “obsession with integration,” says Joe Roman, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership.
“I like his vision,” Roman says. “I like that he’s thinking very grand with the [casino] designs.”
Gilbert loves cities. That’s why his entrepreneur’s school, Bizdom U., will require students to start their businesses downtown when it expands to Cleveland this year. That’s why Quicken Loans opened an online home lending center with 400 employees in the MK Ferguson Building in 2006. It’s why Cavs president Len Komoroski stands in for Gilbert on the Group Plan Commission, which is exploring ways to reinvent downtown’s Malls and Public Square.
Although Gilbert’s based in Detroit, he’s had a major impact on Cleveland since he bought the Cavaliers in 2005. Maybe that’s because he sees how alike Cleveland and Detroit are: both struggling cities that hit bottom about 30 years ago and are clawing their way back.
“[His] mantra is: Why should the East and West coasts have all the fun?” says Komoroski.
Gilbert also fits in here because he’s a businessman who’s used to winning. So he craves an NBA title as hungrily as Cleveland’s glory-starved fans. The infamous letter after Le-Bron’s Decision went over way better here than in the other 49 states. National commentators thought he sounded like a psycho ex-girlfriend. But that night, Gilbert knew Cleveland felt like a psycho ex-girlfriend.
“Our absolute No. 1 goal — beyond profits, beyond anything — is to deliver Cleveland a championship,” he says. “It’s going to take a bit of time. We’re going to do it the right way now and focus on the team and not a one-man show.”
He’s not a Clevelander, but Gilbert gets Cleveland.