Leadership goes beyond a job title. You don’t have to be a CEO or a company president to have an influence. Jay Farner, CEO of Quicken Loans, put it this way: “Leadership is the ability to align a group of people to see the larger vision, to work harder than others would and to have the drive to solve a challenge. It’s about creating value and making an impact.”
On Oct. 3, more than 300 undergraduate and MBA students packed an auditorium to hear Farner speak as the executive guest at the 2019 Sylvan T. Warrington Visiting Lectureship in Ethics and Leadership. Through this annual event, esteemed Broad College alumni are invited back to campus to speak on issues and topics in business that they feel most passionate about.
Farner, who earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from the Broad College in 1995, spent the evening in a “fireside chat” with Eli and Edythe L. Broad Dean Sanjay Gupta. Students heard how Farner’s time at MSU has made an impact on his journey, Quicken Loans’ definition for success and words of wisdom for tomorrow’s business leaders.
Foundation built at MSU
“There’s something about the MSU culture, which translates well to Quicken Loans,” Farner said. Spartans learn the importance of teamwork and collaboration and aren’t threatened by working with others to find solutions. Farner said that Quicken Loans’ culture resonates with this teamwork mindset; Quicken Loans, which has 17,000 team members, hired nearly 300 Spartan graduates this year alone.
Farner recalled how he was able grow his own teamwork skills throughout his finance courses in his junior and senior years at MSU. “My mindset went from being an individual to building bonds with people in my classes, because the work demanded the teamwork support … there is value created through relationships,” he said.
The importance of company culture
Farner has been with Quicken Loans since 1996, when it was known as Rock Financial. The company has been consistently ranked as one of the best places to work and has maintained an unmatched reputation for its client service. Quicken Loans has placed intentional value on its culture, which has led to these successes in reputation.
“The quality of your work product is purely based on the quality of the individuals on your team,” Farner said. He shared how Quicken strives first to find the right people that fit with its culture and second to create a culture where all team members feel empowered to succeed and do their best work.
Quicken Loans has outlined its company culture in ISMs in Action, a fun and easily digestible book filled with real examples. A quick glance at any of the ISMs will leave you with a clear understanding of what the company stands for: “obsessed with finding a better way.”
Copies of the ISMs in Action: Road Trip Edition were also distributed to students who attended the Warrington Lecture.
Innovation and execution
Farner shared his favorite ISM: “Innovation is rewarded; execution is worshipped.” He described this combination of innovation and execution as the secret to business success. “Execution is a muscle [Quicken Loans] built up 30-plus years ago, and we’ve been developing innovation as a core part of our culture as well.”
He said, “You have to disrupt your current business model if you’re looking for growth.” Quicken Loans is taking this approach to embrace the digital transformation, using research and data science to deeply engage with its clients.
“We should be able to give every person a custom offer based on their situation at that time,” Farner said. At Quicken Loans, data science is being married to marketing efforts to better meet the needs of clients with informed and targeted efforts.
“Today, we innovate by focusing on the digital experience for the client and leverage data in an ethical way,” Farner said.
Advice for today’s students
The Warrington Lecture is designed to not only cover specific topics in an open discussion but also allow students to engage with the guest speaker. Farner shared advice with the eager students and answered questions from the audience about important leadership characteristics, failures that have strengthened his journey, advice for taking on challenges as a student and more.
It’s important to always push yourself to do more, even when you think you’ve reached your limit, he said. “You believe that your cup is full, that you’re maxed out and that you can’t do more. But the more you can push yourself to take on more … you realize there is more you can accomplish.”
Farner’s advice centered on creating value and thinking larger as a leader. “If you want to be the CEO of a large company, don’t think about being the CEO of a large company. Instead think about how you can create value … and make your work impactful.”
To hear more from Farner, watch the full livestream recording of the 2019 Warrington Lecture available at the Broad College’s Facebook page.