Dr Jack Dangermond
In an exclusive interview with [email protected] Dr Jack Dangermond, president ESRI discusses about his career, passion and vision.
- What influenced you to come back to Redlands after your education at Harvard?
My family and the fact that Redlands is a great place to live. It’s affordable and a very supportive community.
- In your opinion what came as ‘turning point’ in your professional and personal life?
I haven’t had what some people call a “dramatic” turning point. ESRI continues to reflect the values, ideas and vision that we initially envisioned. There is just a lot more going on and this is what makes it so exciting to work here. One of the biggest shifts in focus came when we introduced ArcInfo in 1982. Prior to that time we were basically doing various GIS projects using our own in-house software tools. With the release of a strong product, we began to leverage all of our project experience into a product that would help other organisations do what we did in our project efforts. This changed everything. How we managed our relationship with our users, the financial dynamics of the company. Everything. Most companies can’t do this (go from a services company to a product company) but fortunately we were able to do this.
- How did the idea of forming a research institute enterprise in the field of environment come to your mind? It might have been an alternative to join some academic institution.
I had several academic opportunities and feel very much at home in that environment, but I also felt that my biggest contribution could be in the development and application of GIS technology. I liked the idea of doing research and inventing methods that would really help the world in supporting/sustaining our environment. By starting as a services organization we were able to develop a philosophy of working on real problems that mattered. This grew to serving users and making them productive. This has been very satisfying.
- When and how did you realize the importance of geography in the field of environment and architecture?
While in Minnesota I became friends with John Borchard, a great geographer and scientist. He was the first to introduce me to the concepts and theories of quantitative geography and the fascinating notion that we could use models to explain how things worked (e.g., networks, cities, landscapes, etc.) At the same time (mid 60’s) I became interested in computers. At Harvard I was able to integrate these two interests and the natural evolution of GIS concepts followed.
- In early days of formation of ESRI you must have faced some extraordinary situations. How did you deal with them?
Frankly everything we did was done very pragmatically, and we were very fortunate. Our customers have always somehow understood the sense of importance of our basic work and they have helped us to make great progress in our work, even in difficult times.
- Apart from ESRI and its environs, what passionate you the most?
Trees and other living things. I intuitively am attracted to them to nurture them in the same way they have supported my life. I am sure I am not unique in this feeling. E.O. Wilson, a renowned ecologist, suggests that most of us have this sense of relationship to other natural living things.
- Who is the role model you had in your mind when you began your career in GIS.
I was helped and influenced by many people: my father, brother, Howard Fisher, Hosni Iskander, Carl Steinitz, Ralph Nader, E.O. Wilson, and Scott Morehouse, to name a few. I am always learning from people, and at ESRI I am surrounded with a team of really bright people who get things done. I find everyone is a teacher in some way.
- How did you feel when ESRI launched the first GIS software?
Good I guess. It’s not the launch that’s important. It’s what users can do that matters. Are they more productive? Did the product improve their work; make a breakthrough?
- In your opinion, what is the most important factor, which has brought you to this pinnacle of success?
I don’t think of our current situation as anything like a pinnacle. Our modest success is simply a step in an ongoing process to make GIS work in the world. It is heavily influenced by our users together with the very special people who have assembled here. ESRI has attracted some of the top GIS minds in the world and there is a great culture here of teaming, being self critical, and a mission of contributions and being responsible. Our critical success factor has been caring about our users and supporting them the best way we can. Also living very frugally has helped. We are not fancy here. We focus on our work and making a contribution. Another important factor is our organizational status. We are not a publically held company driven by financial motivation. We don’t have to serve stockholders or focus our efforts on quarterly profits. All of these factors have helped contribute to a very financially strong and self-sustaining organisation.
- What is your vision of GIS in days to come?
GIS is still in its early stages and its applications are just beginning to be understood. Over time it will evolve to become one of the most universal and important technologies for our world. At the core of GIS is the concept that it uses place or location for integrating all information. Eventually it will be seen as a bridge between disciplines and organizations.
- What message would you like to put forward to the coming generation?
Hard work, contribution and friendship are very important. They are the keys to success and happiness.