Jack Dangermond Interview Part 1: The Company

At the Esri User Conference, xyHt European editor Nicholas Duggan sat down for a one-on-one interview with Jack Dangermond, Esri founder and CEO. In Duggan’s five-part online series, running each day this week, Dangermond discusses everything from Esri’s beginning to the future of GIS. Here in Part 1 the two discuss Dangermond’s company.

Nicholas Duggan: The user conference this year has been absolutely amazing. This year has been good in that, as media, I’ve been able to sit, record and type everything real-time as everybody’s talking. I can stop, pause and do bits and pieces as we go along. Whereas when you’re there, it is pretty hectic, everybody’s going around you, it’s very, very busy. I can’t imagine what it’s like for you.

Jack Dangermond: Many people write to me and say that it’s life-changing when they go to this conference. I don’t know if this virtual media was the same because I just don’t know. We’ll have to see. Colleagues I spoke to a few minutes ago were saying that they miss being with people.  

ND: What was your biggest mistake? 

JD: I make mistakes every day, but I compensate for those mistakes by quick checking with my colleagues and sometimes my ‘not colleagues.’ You can minimize and avert disasters by just constantly checking in; checking your decisions. So I suppose each of us makes 5, 10, 20 little decisions or big decisions every day, and it’s not the big decisions in life that matter. It’s this pattern of small decisions that you make, which are made based on your values based on your experiences, and sometimes I’ll make those mistakes. I don’t think I’ve really made any huge strategic mistakes because I’m always checking, rechecking, rechecking and rechecking. It comes from my own personality of being quite insecure about everything. Checking, double-checking, and that way, I’m constantly being informed and constantly have advisors all around me. And so, for me, everybody’s an advisor, you’re an advisor and I calibrate my own thinking in my own way to make decisions based on lots of feedback from lots of people constantly socializing, interacting, that sort of thing.

ND: And that’s kind of your job now, isn’t it? You’ll see on one of my questions, it references that Esri is now this big company and you’re employing the enterprise architecture, you’ve got DevOps, you’ve got solution architecture, everything around you is fairly automated. So, is your job now to curate and steer the direction of the boat because you’ve got such a good team around you?

JD: Yeah, that’s very true. I have an amazingly talented group and we’ve been together for years and years, you know, that’s the thing. We keep bringing in new talent and those are really the tip of the iceberg, We have hundreds of smart people. I tried to expose some of it through videos during the conference, we have an amazing group of people.

I suppose some CEOs or executives would sit back and be a kind of manager of managers. That’s not my style, I like to be involved. I think my colleagues like to be involved, and they don’t take their eyes off it. So we don’t have a sort of a management executive class at Esri. It’s real people like you just saw, technical people that are managing. We have business management people that manage the finance and manage HR and those sorts of things.

Our interest is in not being managers, but being people that get things done, and to get something done it means creative thinking, it means involvement, it means understanding at depth. Whether it’s in the engineering or solution development, what’s needed and wanted. So it means understanding the circumstances and that means coming up with a solution, thoughts about it, and then getting the resources mustered to be able to address them.

I certainly don’t want you to have a thought there are things on automatic here. It’s just not that way. The complexity, the software, the complexity of the way we do business around the world, this requires constant attention and constant management and ethics. Yes, we have a good team, but there’s no way it’s on automatic or even close to it.

On the other hand, you bring up an interesting question because we are working hard on what we sometimes refer to here as digital transformation and that is automating things like from customer service to e-commerce. Now you can buy our products on the web. When you buy it, it gets shipped a few seconds later. So this is transformation, automating the procedures for doing things like enterprise licensing agreements. This is tedious and manual and we keep looking at how we can really transform those hand-done jobs into more automated ones.

I mean, I suppose organizations around the world are doing it, the way we approach it is to look at our customers and their experience. So even in our own management needs, we talked about how do we transform the user experience the UX/UI CX environment so that customers don’t have to deal with personalities unless they want to. So we’re moving from an organization which is personality-driven to one that’s procedure driven. Perhaps you’ve heard about that notion.

We have been, in the last five years and especially in the last two years, quite successful doing that. That doesn’t mean that our humaneness isn’t involved in it, it just means that we are able to automate things and streamline things. Now, just like in consumer life, buying theatre tickets  used to be a pain in the ass. Now, bang, bang, you can go to a great play or something like that, and get the right tickets and it’s all been transformed.

Well, we’re trying to do that same thing at Esri internally, with all the different systems that run, from marketing to sales to procedures to get approvals and the time I’m talking about things that probably don’t really have so much interest to your readers, but that still takes total involvement by managers that are smart, who like to get things done.

Tomorrow, in Part 2, Duggan asks Dangermond to talk about himself.

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