“You got a dream anyway, you may as well dream big.” -Dan Gilbert
It was a warm evening in June. Summer was finally in the air as 200 (mostly) young singles and couples representing Jewish Detroit gathered at the Quicken Loans’ offices at Chase Tower downtown to celebrate Federation’s “Past, Present and Future.”
The event marked the 75th Annual Meeting of Federation’s Young Jewish Detroit and the extraordinary “First Year” under the new NEXTGen banner.
It was a night to take pause, to connect and engage. To celebrate and recount a year of remarkable achievement and to give thanks to all who made it possible in their time as young leaders. It was a night to recognize and honor past presidents, many in attendance who have continued over the years to serve as Federation Presidents, Executives and longtime community leaders.
“Tonight is particularly meaningful,” said Marty Maddin, outgoing NEXTGen President. “We honor 75 years of Young Jewish Detroit while celebrating our own reinvention in the launch of NEXTGen. Our current successes are possible only because they’ve been built on the shoulders of the leadership of past generations.”
Over the past 18 months, NEXTGen Detroit has seen a phenomenal growth, doubling the numbers of its donor base and more than quadrupling the numbers of participants in meaningful Jewish experiences. Events such as Pitch for Detroit, Latke Vodka and EPIC have drawn unprecedented attendance.
“What happened last year was nothing short of amazing,” stated Scott Kaufman, Federation’s Chief Executive Officer. “We set bold goals, and put them out there on the internet for everyone to see. Results? Last year we had the highest percentage growth in our donor base since 1948. And we did it without having to start a new country.”
It was a night for recognition and installation of those who have stepped forward to serve as officers and members of the board. Taking the helm as new president of NEXTGen, Rachel Wright expressed the commitment and enthusiasm that’s created NEXTGen’s new and emerging leadership style, “You say: Henaini – here I am. You show up. And you are here to make a difference.”
It was a night to showcase the city from a rare inside view of Quicken Loans’ new digs. Introducing Dan Gilbert to the stage, Scott noted “The efforts of many are driving Detroit forward, but all movements need a leader, and Dan Gilbert is the leader at this moment to rebuild Detroit.”
Dan Gilbert is in the house.
As everyone in Detroit knows, Dan Gilbert is the chairman and Founder of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures—a man with a mission to transform Detroit’s urban core—one building at a time. In three years, his company has invested in 15 downtown properties, bringing more than 8,000 employees downtown to live, work and play.
Choosing not to speak at the podium, Dan sat comfortably in an easy chair on stage, chatting in talk-show format with longtime associate and Quicken Political Operative David Carroll. The following are excerpts of the conversation:
DAVE: 8,000 people downtown. 1,000 summer interns. Millions and millions of dollars invested downtown. Why Detroit?
DAN: Our leases were coming up in the suburbs and we had a decision to make. We had three choices: To stay in a bunch of office buildings spread out all over the suburbs; to find a piece of vacant land and build new headquarters; or to come downtown.
We chose the third option because we were in a position that we felt we could impact the outcome and make a difference. With the number of people we had, along with the capital we had to invest, we could at least give it a shot.
That was the short version. The business reason is pretty simple. We are [a company] built on people—people who are creative and entrepreneurial, and technology and marketing folks. The only way we were going to retain those kinds of people and rev the company and attract others was if we were going to be an urban core… and build in downtown Detroit.
DAVE: What does opportunity in Detroit look like?
DAN: Roll tape.
Opportunity is molded. It’s built. It’s created. Opportunity is made in Detroit.
We named OPPORTUNITY:DETROIT for a reason. Because we believe that there’s massive opportunity in our city and the momentum keeps growing every single day. This summer we have 1,000 interns with 187 colleges represented. What people don’t know is that we received 18,000 resumes without advertising. I’m sure all these young people don’t wake up one morning and say, “Wow I wish I could work for a mortgage company in downtown Detroit.” That’s not the deal. That’s not Quicken Loans. We think we’re cool, but not that cool. It’s the city and the fact that they can make a difference.
QUESTION FROM THE AUDIENCE: There are a lot of us here tonight trying to impact the outcome. What one or two points of advice would you give us?
DAN: You can’t just do the same thing we’ve always done and incrementalize your way to greatness or major impact.
You have to take a risk. So I would say if it’s in you, if you have the dog in you, and you really do want to make major impact and change, you have to be bold, you have to be very determined to make that happen. No matter what the noise is around you.
You’re going to think anyway, so you may as well think big. You’ve got a dream anyway. You may as well dream big. We’re only here for a relatively short period of time. You may as well impact positively as many people as you can.
All in favor, say aye.
The gavel was passed, closing an extraordinary year, with the promise of another exciting, new beginning.
Meet the 2013-14 NEXTGen Executive Board