Linglong He

This engineer paired her tech talents with an eye for business to land the top IT job.

Linglong He stepped into the CIO role at Quicken Loans in 2010, taking over the top IT spot at a company continually ranked by Computerworld and others as a great place to work. She came to the post with an impressive list of accomplishments. In China, she earned an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Hehai University and a master's degree in civil engineering from Wuhan University, where she taught civil engineering for seven years. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1991. After earning another master's degree in software engineering from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, she made a career in IT. In 1996, she joined Quicken Loans, where she worked in various roles, from business analyst to director of database and systems engineering, until she came into her current role. Here she talks about her work, her leadership and what it takes to sustain a top-rated work environment.

You rose up through the IT ranks. What was your biggest lesson as you became an executive? Know your business, know the impact of the technology to the business -- that's the lesson. At Quicken Loans, I was in different roles -- a database administrator, engineer, team leader -- and in the engineer world, you're more focused on a task. As a CIO today, I see the big picture; I see what the outcome of the technology is and how it applies to the business, how it drives the business. We sometimes call ourselves a technology company, not a mortgage company, so we compare ourselves to Google and other technology companies to see how fast the technology can drive our business. We try to leverage the tools to move faster.

How did you prepare for your growth from engineering and IT positions to management and executive roles? I want to be honest with you: I was not intentionally preparing for the executive role. But I usually served as technical lead on a team, so I was there to support them from a technical point of view as well as a personal point of view. I also took initiative and ownership and lived by integrity and persistence. I believe I have the nature to make a decision, even in a crisis mode. I'm not afraid to make a decision. And I [have] read a lot of leadership books and listened to leadership tapes.

So do you groom your own staff to move into management positions? Absolutely. Our company does a great job on that. We develop and mentor people. In IT, we have, every other week, a roundtable discussion on hot topics, like how to handle different personalities, so we have a recurrent meeting for leaders. And for myself, I hold regular meetings with my VPs, and I conduct quarterly meetings with the entire leadership team -- 50 or 60 people -- talking about principles and expectations for leaders. I enjoy seeing people grow.

You taught civil engineering for seven years. How does that experience compare to management? I think as a leader it's the same as a teacher, same as a parent: You have to encourage people in a positive way, and you can't overlook an area that needs improvement, so you hold them accountable. My nickname is Mom because a mom takes care of [people] and makes sure they grow right.

As an online retail mortgage lender, so much of your company's technology faces external customers. What are their top expectations of your technology? They want [our] system to be easy to use [and] convenient and to have a quick response time. The interface has to be friendly, and they want clear communications regarding their loan. [Delivering all that] is an ongoing process. We constantly have a dialogue with our clients for feedback, and on our website, we have a survey to receive feedback. Our technology team is on top of that, so we're trying to constantly meet and exceed those expectations. Any client complaint -- I receive the email. Any compliment I receive, too.

What about your internal customers, the Quicken Loans workers that you support? What are their top expectations? There are two kinds of expectations. One is from the infrastructure side, that any production system is up and running. You can't have a system down. And also response time. They want to move fast. If they click a button and wait forever, they're not happy. The other expectation is on the project side. Our internal customers rely on our technology to provide the tools and the expertise, and they rely on us to provide a solution to drive the business. We have so many regulatory requirements, but our technology team automates everything to make sure it happens smoothly.

What recruitment strategies do you use to ensure you're getting the best workers? There are several strategies for doing that. No. 1, we depend on our team members for recruiting. They know who are the best, so we encourage our team members to bring their friends and friends of friends. Also, we promote our people. And we do have a recruiting team, and we belong to several recruiting sites. We use our reputation -- we win awards for being a great place to work. They see our office -- it's a beautiful place. And they can see in our technological area a ping-pong table, an Xbox to play games -- there are just so many attractions. So they want to come work here.

And how do you keep them? Not only by taking care of them from the compensation point of view, but [by] making sure they feel they've achieved something every day. Keep them fulfilled.

-- Interview by Computerworld contributing writer Mary K. Pratt (marykpratt@verizon.net)

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