To Lights, Music And Cavs Highlights, Dan Gilbert Unites The Quicken Loans Tribe In Cleveland

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To lights, music and Cavs highlights, Dan Gilbert unites the Quicken Loans tribe in Cleveland

Print Email >Robert L. Smith, The Plain Dealer By Robert L. Smith, The Plain Dealer The Plain Dealer

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on February 25, 2015 at 1:30 PM, updated February 26, 2015 at 8:55 AM

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I think I'd about rather die than be bored. I think that's why I do all this, all these companies." Dan Gilbert
20150225_141921.jpg>A Family Reunion, Dan Gilbert style.Robert L. Smith/The Plain Dealer 

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Soon into the uncommon corporate retreat, just before Washington Wizards' owner Ted Leonsis addressed the crowd, members of Dan Gilbert's business empire turned and introduced themselves to one another.

Even in a speed-networking format, the hellos took much of an hour.

The Quicken Loans Family of Companies, now mustering in Cleveland, includes 119 companies in 46 cities and 18 states.

To help unite the disparate tribes, and instill a common culture, Gilbert annually hosts what he calls the Family Reunion. The sixth edition unfolded this morning at the Cleveland Convention Center, when more than 400 business professionals took their seats in a media-rich ballroom.

If empires reflect the personality of the leader, it's no surprise the gathering unfolded kinetic, bright and bizarre.

Life-sized Fathead decals of sports stars and comic book heroes festooned the walkways and walls, even in restrooms. Big screens beamed highlights from Cavs' games and Gilbert snippets of wisdom, called "isms," hung on banners. Speakers were introduced on a massive stage to lights and pulsating music.

The theme, "Anything is possible," reinforced the message. Anything is possible if executives follow the philosophies of the leader, whose business strategies have been very good to Cleveland and Detroit.

In Cleveland, Gilbert is best known for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Horseshoe Casino and a Quicken Loans satellite with 550 people. But his impact is even more profound in Detroit, where he's been buying up vacant downtown buildings and refilling them with employees moved in from the suburbs.

Contributing to Detroit's comeback is more than the right thing to do, Gilbert told the gathering. It's the smart thing.

"We were spread out in the suburbs of Detroit. We had a business decision to make" -- where do we grow?

"I think people are better at their day jobs when there's another mission attached to their company," he said. "It creates a bond."

Gilbert opened the three-day conference with a staged one-on-one conversation with Jay Farner, the president of Quicken Loans. Both men wore blue blazers, open-collared shirts and a three-day growth of graying beard.

"I think what we're try to do is inspire," Gilbert told a rapt audience. "Inspire every one of you to reach your God-given potential."

Every company needs a culture that guides decision-making, he said, or people become afraid to make decisions.

As to his own fears, Gilbert, prodded by Farner, admitted to only one.

"I have a fear of being bored," he said. "I think I'd about rather die than be bored. I think that's why I do all this, all these companies.

"Being alive and being excited about something -- it's hard to do that and feel fear."

Gilbert urged his company leaders to create and innovate. To do that, he said, they should have more than stories of accomplishment to share.

"If you want innovation and creativity in your business," he said, "then you better accept failure."

He urged them to re-prioritize constantly, to blend metrics with gut instinct, and to focus their limited time on valuable pursuits.

"Is the juice worth the squeeze?" he asked, repeating a favorite ism.

Through Friday, conference attendees will hear from sports stars like LeBron James and business leaders like Tom Kartsotis, the former chairman of Fossil and the founder of Detroit luxury watch maker Shinola.

They'll watch the Cavs play the Golden State Warriors Thursday night and network with colleagues and peers from a wide range of businesses.

Along the way, they will no doubt learn a lot about what makes their leader tick.

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