Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the name of ESRI.

From the Editor: The passion and the perseverance to succeed

Monday, June 14, 2010

Jack Dangermond was running late. Something about a meeting running over with Martin O'Malley, the governor of Maryland. The dining room at the Occidental Grill was nearly empty by the time Jack and I hooked up, and he seemed confused about why I was even there.

Strange, because that was how I felt after having been invited by his staff, who thought it would be a good idea for Capital Business to know something about ESRI.


Now if you are in the geography business, that would not be a question. Dangermond's company, Environmental Systems Research Institute, has revolutionized the field by figuring out how to marry data to geographic coordinates.

Dangermond reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a red box bearing the mark of Her Majesty the Queen. Inside was a gold medal he had just received from the Royal Geographical Society, the Patron's medal, for promoting geographical science. This was no small achievement; honorees date back to the 1800s and include some of the world's greatest explorers: Mount Everest climber Edmund Hillary, Antarctic expedition leader Robert Falcon Scott, and North Pole adventurer Roald Amundsen, to name a few.

The medal recognizes the profound effect ESRI has had on bringing geography into the digital age. Federal agencies license its software, and so do many companies.

ESRI is the engine behind the federal stimulus site, and it is helping the District and the state of Maryland map budget data and information on government services. The privately held company employs 2,700, including 280 people in Vienna. Revenue totals about $776 million annually.

This was no blink-of-the-eye start-up, begging for venture funding as it searched for a quick exit. The company never took a penny of debt. It grew slowly. Dangermond started by taking on small projects, trying to prove that mapping data could bring some rational thinking to the highly charged political debates over the environment in the 1970s. Then computers came along and a Harvard friend thought his approach might be turned into a product. The business just took off from there.

"This was an eat beans, drink water and live in your car kind of business," Dangermond said. "But we were passionate about what we did, and that passion over time led to success."

It was then I realized why we had been brought together. Here was an entrepreneur of the old school, one who shows the power of perseverance.

-- Dan Beyers

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