2018 Champions of the New Economy
For the ninth straight year, DBusiness has selected five regional executives who are driving growth in the technology sector.
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CIO, Quicken Loans Inc., Detroit • Employees: 17,500 • Mortgage Volume: $400B (2013-2017)
Why She’s a Champion of the New Economy
When Linglong He joined Quicken Loans Inc. in 1996 (originally Rock Financial in Livonia), there were seven people in the IT department in Bingham Farms. When the department was relocated to Livonia, she and her team literally moved the server. But in preparation for Quicken Loans’ move to downtown Detroit, a new data center was set up, which has since been expanded several times. Today, as CIO of Quicken Loans, He oversees a staff of 1,900 people across multiple disciplines. From setting up the IT department downtown to helping launch Rocket Mortgage in 2016 to overseeing technology initiatives across the business, she says one of her most passionate efforts is serving as chair of Experience IT. The group, made up of several technology leaders, provides continued education, work experience, and job opportunities for IT professionals and college students. “I grew up in China and got my undergraduate and master’s degrees in civil engineering, (and) there wasn’t an opportunity to start your own business there like you can in the United States,” says He, a board member of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce in Farmington Hills. “Since moving here, I really like working in a team environment, staying on the cutting edge of technology, and helping the next generation of IT professionals.”
What was it like growing up in China?
In China, all of your room, board, food, and everything (is) paid for, and there isn’t the entrepreneurial environment that you have in the United States. When I moved to the U.S., I attended the University of St. Thomas (in St. Paul, Minn.), where I earned a master’s degree in software engineering. I worked several jobs at the university, including the library, and in restaurants. I also worked in the IT department and was an editor for a monthly magazine in the manufacturing department for the school. I was the troubleshooter, so when a printer broke down, I would fix it. I also kept the audio visual equipment working, the TVs, and, of course, the PCs. It was a tremendous cultural change. I had a strong foundation in math and science, and I could read, write, and speak English, but communication was difficult. Over time, I picked up on things and learned to appreciate everything. The other thing was I had to learn to drive. In China, I rode my bicycle everywhere. I’m still a slow driver, but a good driver. I also learned how important a diverse culture is, because you get to learn different perspectives and see more wide angles (in the U.S.).
How did you arrive in Michigan?
I had an internship job and was hired by First Bank in St. Paul, which is now US Bank. I spent two years there as a programmer, and I was promoted three or four times in one year because I had a strong background in math and programming. I worked there for almost two years, and then my husband came to Michigan, due to a job. He brought my resume with him and helped circulate it around. We had a baby when I moved here, and I started working for the Mid-Michigan Physicians Group in Lansing, but it was 70 miles one way to work, and it quickly became difficult to raise a baby and have to drive so far. I had applied for a position at Rock Financial, which had its IT department in Bingham Farms — so that was a lot closer to Novi, where we lived. I was hired as a programming developer.
What was it like during the period when Rock Financial went public in 1998, was sold to Intuit Inc. in 1999, and then was acquired back by Dan Gilbert as Quicken Loans Inc. in 2002?
It was a good learning experience to see the changes the business went through at that time. There was a three-hour time difference (between Rock Financial and Intuit), so
sometimes they would schedule a 5 p.m. meeting and it was 8 p.m. here, which extended the day. In turn, the computer systems they were using were different from ours. When we became Quicken Loans in 2002, I was director for data systems engineering. I was originally hired as a programmer for coding, but over time I became responsible for our technology infrastructure — meaning the data center, databases, the server, the network. Everything was more hardware-related. At that time, there were 352 people in the IT department, out of 2,800 people overall. When we moved downtown (in 2010), the technology sector wasn’t very strong in Detroit and it was dominated by automotive. When we moved, I also worked on business intelligence.
How did the move go?
The best thing we did was to build a data center downtown. We flipped the switch, so to speak, seamlessly, rather than physically move servers. We have a very strong team, and at that time I was responsible for all of the technology. I had to make sure nothing crashed, and I made sure all the systems stayed up and running. That was job No. 1. I had a phone beside my pillow so if there was a problem, I could address it right away. I still sleep with my phone because you have to keep the train running, given technology drives the business. Prior to becoming CIO (in 2010), I worked within the business, but now I not only make sure everything is working properly, but I look ahead to see how to transform the business for the better. I’m glad to say the move went very well. We worked on the move eight months ahead of time, and we had a backup data center for redundancy.
Quicken Loans has since built a new data center in Corktown. What drove that investment?
It was done for growth and capacity. It’s a state-of-the-art facility, and as we introduced Rocket Mortgage (selling home loans online), as well as the work we do in the cloud, we need the extra data capacity. In February 2016, we launched Rocket Mortgage (via a Super Bowl advertising campaign), and it has been a phenomenal addition to our portfolio. If you have all of the necessary information, you can get approved (for a mortgage) in eight minutes. We had something like 500 people working to bring that up to speed, with a lot of different teams involved, including vendors. We started working on it in December 2014, and we continue to refine the process to make it even better.
How is Quicken Loans doing in terms of providing IT capacity and preventing cyber attacks?
I can’t talk too much about cybersecurity, but it’s very important to us. As for capacity, we have quite a bit. One of our related companies is Rocket Fiber, though it is a separate company. Two of the engineers (Randy Foster and Marc Hudson) were on our team, so it was gratifying to see them (along with Edi Demaj) take that company and really make it successful. We have innovation sessions every Monday afternoon, and that was one of the innovations that sprung forward. Overall, we have a really good plan to share technology ideas across the Quicken Loans Family of Companies. A lot of times I get asked what it’s been like since I came to America, and I say it’s so important for people to be themselves, always carry their own sunshine, and bring value to the table.