Guaranteed Rate's Martin Logan on lending, tech and hiring in Chicago

by Sam Dewey
October 18, 2016

Since its launch in 2000, Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate has become a force to be reckoned with — not just in the lending industry, but as a leader in Chicago’s tech scene as well. With more than 1,000 employees in Chicago alone, the company has grown into a permanent stop in a circuit of evolutionary companies in the Midwest.

At its helm is CIO Martin J. Logan, who leads a 100-person strong tech team and oversees product development for the company. Under his direction, the company has realized a digital mortgage experience befitting the level of innovation consumers have come to expect in a digital world.

What technologies power your business?

There are many. An interesting one is Clojure. Clojure is a functional programming language derived from Lisp but running on the Java virtual machine. This language is a power tool for us because it allows our engineers to think at a higher level of abstraction than those programming imperative style languages. Functional programming also attracts a particularly brilliant breed of programmer, just the kind we like.   

From a technology standpoint, how has the company evolved since it launched?

We went from being an IT organization — meaning supporting email, third party systems, phones — to a world-class product development organization. We’re bringing innovative products to consumers on a scale that’s changing the industry, and we’ve done that by having a flat IT organizational structure. This empowers teams to hire the best of best and make their own decisions to drive that business. Engineers are actually meeting with our CEO and making changes, so they have a radical degree of autonomy. And we’re never afraid to experiment.  

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

We’re building something called Underwriting Express, with the goal to facilitate a customer’s underwriting in one day — the industry standard is eight to 10 days. We launched our mobile app this year, allowing consumers to compare current mortgage rates and calculate their monthly payment while shopping for a home. Providing this level of customized results and transparency before speaking to a loan officer for a rate is unprecedented in the industry.

What are some lessons you've learned about working in Chicago that other local entrepreneurs can learn from?

Hire and pay for the best engineers you can find. Give them freedom to do what they’re good at. Even if you’re not always 100 percent comfortable with every decision, it gives them ownership that leads to passion for the organization that is well worth the discomfort.

What sets your team apart?

We have an incredible mentorship program. In order to use new technology, we focus on teaching and making education part of the culture. We have a philosophy that when you know something, you’re obligated to share it. To live by this standard, we cross train across teams through live demos and lunch and learns.

Anything else you want the Chicago startup community to know about your work?

The mortgage industry is a one trillion dollar industry, and we’re dedicated to reinventing it by making the loan process easier and faster for consumers. And the results show our success: more than 31,000 people have locked over $9 billion in loans using the Digital Mortgage since its launch last year. This is only the beginning of our growth through technology.

Images via Guaranteed Rate. Some responses have been edited for length or clarity. 

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