Inside the Top Five: No. 1: Quicken Loans

By building its own applications, this online mortgage lender gets the systems it wants and IT staffers get their hands on homegrown technology. By Mary K. Pratt

Tech workers at Quicken Loans Inc. don't hold back on compliments. Just listen to what some of them have to say about their company: "Great environment and great benefits." "Great culture." "Great leadership." "Great people." "Great place to work."

They aren't simply trying to flatter the boss. They cite specific policies and philosophies that have made the Livonia, Mich.-based company the No. 1 place to work for two years running (see the full list of 100 Best Places to Work). Workers say they value their ability to take ownership of ideas and projects. They also like the flexible environment that helps them balance home and work. And they enjoy the collaborative atmosphere.

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The events of a recent day clearly demonstrate these points.

8 a.m.: It's Tuesday morning and the start of the workday for many of the company's 320 IT workers. As they arrive on the fourth floor, they come face to face with Quicken Loans' version of The Wall, a long whiteboard where they can respond to weekly questions. This week's topic: What were the fads when you were in high school?

To the left of that is The Wall of Acclaim, a collection of written compliments for the company's tech workers. There's also an American flag, a gift from a pilot returning from Iraq whose family received financial support from the Quicken Loans technology team.

"When people come up the stairs or get off the elevator, they see something positive and get fired up," CIO Todd Lunsford says.

9 a.m.: Radek Papiez, captain of the three-person computer telephony integration team, starts working on current projects. He and another team member focus on program modifications meant to enhance the company's ability to track external client communications. Like most applications at Quicken Loans, this one is proprietary.

"Our No. 1 mission is instead of buying the technology, we build it," special projects manager Joy Ziraldo says, adding that this approach allows the company to get exactly what it wants.

As a result, IT staffers make about 20 production changes daily, whereas commercial applications get one or two changes a year, Lunsford says. Although the tasks can vary dramatically from one day to the next, changes could range from simple Web site updates and spelling corrections to complex database and system upgrades.

WHY THEY'RE TOPS
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Ranked No. 4 for retention
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Ranked No. 3 for benefits
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Training budget per IT employee per year: $2,500
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32% of its IT managers are women
Such internal statistics aren't surprising, considering that Quicken Loans' data center has 450 servers and the IT department supports about 200 different business applications.

Meanwhile, Lunsford, Director of Engineering Frank Laura and Lunsford's other direct reports get together for a biweekly managers' meeting, which generally focuses on major initiatives.

Although Laura has meetings throughout the day, he doesn't need appointments to talk with Lunsford, other managers or anyone else at Quicken Loans. Employees use phone calls, e-mail and instant messaging to stay in touch, although they prefer face-to-face interaction. In fact, the IT department values communication so much that managers gave up their private offices to work alongside their teams.

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