Quicken Loans Innovates with A “Small Business” Culture

By Amanda Lewan on March 5th, 2013 / Comments

For a company that’s always thinking big in Detroit, Quicken Loans keeps their innovative edge by maintaining a “small business” mindset.

What does that mean? Employees work together but bring ideas to the table every day, keeping a larger company creative and keeping employees engaged with their work.

And it works with programs like Bullet Time, a four hour weekly break for the IT department to work on any idea for the company, and the Cheese Factory which is their own company idea outlet. Employees are encouraged to bring an entrepreneurial spirit to their team, helping keep the company focused on growing and improving their business.

Culture Goes Beyond Colorful Walls

Quicken Loans is located in the Compuware Building downtown across from the quaint Campus Martius, a park that looks like a snow-globe winter wonderland captured from up high in the Quicken Loans floors. Their company spreads out into other nearby buildings too, creating a corporate campus in Detroit.

But there’s nothing “corporate” about the environment. The walls are bright and colorful, capturing images of Detroit and street styles of local artists. Fatheads are blown up, and employees are currently getting their own customized graphic poster.

Culture is more than just colors and a playful setting. It’s also about having a purpose and the ability to grow as an employee inside a great community.


Quicken Loans Detroit
Colorful walls inside Quicken Loans

Bill Parker, Innovation Architect of Quicken Loans, is the man behind their Bullet Time program, a program that’s been imitated by others but still far from the norm in corporate America. He shared how he got started and what other companies might learn from their approach.

“Historically, you have companies that hire R and D guys that disappear for six months than invent the next big thing. That’s not our culture. We want everyone involved contributing ideas,” said Bill. “You need to provide the freedom and motivation for employees to make a difference.”

Bill proposed the bullet time program in the summer of 2011, creating a time on Monday afternoons for IT team members to create. Bill’s three rules for this innovative space include: working on something outside of every day work, a project that benefits company and nothing that interferes with daily work flow.

He believes that by treating others as important to the growth of the company you can continue to foster the small business environment.

“Small company culture is important. It’s about our people,” said Bill. “Not only will we take a serious look at your idea, but we allow the individual to be empowered to bring the passion to the idea. That’s a big piece to being a small company. We try to maintain that atmosphere.”

Moving from a Muscle Economy to a Brain Economy

Quicken Loans believes that we’re moving away from a muscle economy to a brain economy. Quicken Loans embraces technology using it in ways to improve their workflow with projects like Deskstar, a map that will show you where your coworkers are on a virtual map (think Harry Potter).

“The technology that’s out there today allows startups and small business to catch up in a short period of time.Quicken Loans is becoming a big fish in the game. Technology has been a force amplifier,” said Bill.

What keeps this brain working? Exercising the idea muscle and allowing a space for innovation at the core of company culture.

Bill says that companies need to innovate in order to stay ahead of their industry:

“Innovation is about survival. Not resting up and cashing in on what’s already been made. That’s not going to keep us an industry leader.”

How Small Businesses Can Keep Innovating

What I took away from my conversation with Bill was that it’s important to focus on keeping the company moving forward by allowing innovation to start from inside the company.

Here are a few ideas that a startup can keep in mind while moving forward:

  • Give employees autonomy but also responsibility. The bullet time program at Quicken Loans is reviewed every three months. Employees need to take it seriously.
  • Create some basic rules to make sure employees know what is expected of this time.
  • Create a culture that is open to embracing all ideas. Not all ideas are pursued, but having an outlet for idea generation can lead to some of the best.
  • Make everyone feel as though they are a part of the company and are welcome to contribute. This gives all employees a voice that can be heard, no matter the size of the company.

Startups are always keeping this in mind, as every player is important to the success of the startup. These are also values that all Michigan businesses can ingrain in their culture to keep on keeping on’ towards success.

For similar stories check out: Building a Scalable Business, Small Steps to a Happy Startup

Photo via Design You Trust.

About the Author

Amanda Lewan

Amanda Lewan

Editor @michipreneur. Co-founder Bamboo Detroit. Follow me @Amanda_Jenn. I love telling the story of entrepreneurs and innovators.