Jack Dangermond, Part 2: The Man Himself

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 2 Duggan asks Dangermond to talk about himself.

Nicholas Duggan: Talk me through what what’s your typical day involves? 

Jack Dangermond: Oh, my typical day is I get up in the morning. I don’t get up as early as my wife. She usually gets up before me. I sleep a little bit longer. We have breakfast together. Then we take a walk. We live in an avocado and orange grove, just a few miles from here and sort of against the hill. So sometimes we walk up in the hills, we call it forest bathing, that’s a Japanese term. I forget the Japanese word for it. Like going out in the forest, it really refreshes you mentally. So that’s what we do that every morning. It’s a little bit of exercise, there’s just tons of birds and different plants species, and it’s a real joy actually. So I have a privilege to live in Redlands where it’s a beautiful place here, right up against the hills.

Then I go to work and my wife goes to work independent of me in her own car. Sometimes I’ll work late. You know, she has meetings. So yeah, but anyway, we both work hard. I would say these last four months have been the hardest working times in our entire career. In the U.S., I think we have 4,500 employees all now working from home [due to COVID19] and managing that transformation was a big transformational step. We did it in one week, wow! And it was seamless, just the whole organization, I mean, speaks to the collaboration and the strength of the people in the organization. They just flipped. Look, we make mistakes. I mean, I’m the first to admit it in looking after everything, but generally speaking, employees know that we care about them and they go all in to making it work, sort of part of our culture.

And so I’ll arrive at work, but I don’t have a typical day. Every day is different. I’ll spend a lot of time with users, sometimes with business partners, whether they be Microsoft or a small startup. I learn from that. I learn from the customers, what are their issues? What are the big challenges, and they’ll often come here for technology briefings. I’ll sit in on some of those presentations. And then we do reviews of the different teams.

Esri is a team company, there’s lots of little teams, or software development teams that all kind of roll up into Sud (Sud Menon, lead Product Developers) and Clint and Dirk’s operation. And they might be working on say 3D GIS or on integration with Autodesk or something like that. And so I’ll sit through technical reviews. And there are teams that are industry focused, like, say, they’re looking after the water industry. There’s a industry manager on both the marketing and business development side, and they’ll they organize and coordinate with the product teams and partner teams could give a brief on how their market is doing or their sales are doing, and also their initiatives to create new solutions for our customers.

So I’ll listen to those. And there are, you know, a couple of dozens of those and there are a couple dozen others many doses in technology. Sitting through those is a thrill because they teach me what’s going on in the market. They teach me what’s going on with technology. And those meetings are not my meetings, they are meetings with a team of people that really look after cross-cutting sorts of activities.

Then there are occasionally issues in business, as all businesses have. We make mistakes and judgments. So I look after that, and then fix it. It’s like a garden. You have to make sure all the plants are watered and there’s no weeds in the garden and all those sorts of things.

There’s some of that “typical day” thing. I usually have lunch, then I go back to work, sometimes I’ll work until five or six, sometimes I’ll work until midnight, depending upon sort of issues that are in hand. So that’s when I’m in Redlands, that’s about about 60 percent of the time. Then I travel quite a bit, go to visit our international customers in the Middle East, in China and Asia, Europe, South America, Africa. And those are usually one to two week trips, or I’ll visit number of customers or will often have a user meeting when I’m there, sort of a miniature meeting of what we do here, and I hear feedback from them, and they give me directions and share their thoughts.

So I like to stay close to users. I go to Washington, D.C., quite a bit because we have a lot of users there in the U.S. federal government, both on the civilian and the military side. They give me lots of help, and they appreciate it. They appreciate me listening and then coming back here and working with our development teams. But I’m one of many people who do this in organization. 

ND: That’s gonna be a lot of hats you’re wearing, you know, kind of being able to fit and talk about so many parts of the company. 

JD: And there are there are literally hundreds of people who do this. They’re talking to the customers, getting feed back. And we’ve tried to automate some of it. We have an ideas portal where people put in ideas and suggestions, that’s one mechanism. We have a web environment called geo net, where we have thousands, tens of thousands, of people interacting with each other helping each other and also giving us direction and feedback. So, we get pretty quickly what the issues are, and I don’t certainly look at all of them. I’ll tell you what I do do, is I look at every question answer response before the users conference. So the months before the users conference, you know, I read thousands of pages of user comments and letters to me or to different parts of the organization, complaints, ideas, and so on.

So this last two months, what you just saw in the virtual conference, reflects the sort of  heart beat that goes on at Esri for, let’s say, two or three months right before the conference where we’re ingesting all of what we did, putting it together, developing a story to tell to our customers. But it also reflects all of the user feedback and what our customers want. So the agenda is very much customer driven, what sessions we had, what things they wanted to emphasize. It’s amazing how we’re responsive to the users. So that I don’t know if that helps you.

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