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David Foote has lived a life of travel, discovery and projection. A childhood of travel and exploration has led to adulthood on the move, a mobile empire grown from constant learning.
“When you’re little, you’re really adaptable,” Foote said. “Your life is agile and flexible.”
It’s a mindset he’s retained, and it’s resulted in higher learning: a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, followed by a graduate degree from Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management. That was capped off by further study at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.
Travel, diving, music, business, technology and family fuel Foote as he’s constantly discovering what’s next.
Describe your childhood. What seeds were planted as a youth that you’ve seen grow as you’ve aged?
My father was a genius. He grew up as a farm kid in Ohio, had a dozen kids in his graduating class. But he was admitted to Harvard University at 16 years old, then got his degree from there at 19 years old, in the class of 1947. He was aggressive, ambitious. He molded his life to exactly what he wanted it to be; that certainly is a reason why I’m so mobile. I attended four different elementary schools growing up, [lived in] three different states before graduating high school and have moved 17 times total in my lifetime. He raised us to be that way, fluid and adaptable.
It honestly taught me from the time I was very young that change is always happening; it has everything to do with what I do for a living, how I’ve run my life.
Part of your job is to forecast, to see what’s coming next before anyone else does. That requires you to travel to all corners of the world, observe how people use and value technology. You also don’t work in an office; the job is where you, your computer, your phone and a high-speed internet connection are present. What’s that like?
There also has to be an airport nearby! You get a feeling for things, you develop an intuition. Intuition is nothing more than experiencing things. There’s nothing magical to it. It’s the sum total of all the things you’ve experienced in life. What’s progressing, what’s being held back, why is technology always years ahead of our ability to use it, and how do we adapt it to our work and lives? When I travel, I have to be listening to how companies are using technology. When I’m anywhere, I’m paying attention to how people use technology, I’m talking to people in the street, I’m visiting companies and meeting with people I know and have met along the way to talk to them. Where is technology adoption right now in New Delhi, India versus Shanghai versus Orlando? How are they different? I need to be aware and understand all technologies in many places.
You were in the Bay Area for the birth of desktop computing. What was that like? How much did you glean from those unrivaled experiences?
To spend the 1980s working in Silicon Valley, there was nothing like it. It will never happen again; you can’t re-create that. The IBM PC was introduced in August of 1981, the same month I moved to San Francisco. The next year, I started working at Atari when they were transitioning from games to home computing. That’s colored my whole life. I watched and participated in what it would take to get computers in everyone’s homes, and once they were, how to generate money from the software inside them.
One of your favorite hobbies is scuba diving. What brought that on, and what’s your future with it?
I’ve been scuba diving for 26 years. I love to dive when I travel. But when I go to the Maldives, Micronesia, Indonesia or Fiji, I’m usually on a beach and not many of those have robust technology. So I’ll spend a week diving and another on land, meeting with companies and trying to soak up as much information as I can. I’ve done over 500 dives, and the coral reefs will probably be gone in our lifetime. I’m going to try to reach as many coral reefs as I can, at least in the next 10 years, before they vanish off the face of the Earth.
What’s next for you? What do the next five, 10 years look like?
My mother is 95 years old. She still drives a car, she’s in pretty good health. People were living to 100 in her family years ago. I’m in my 60s, and it’s likely, given medical advances and our family genes, I may only be two-thirds through my life. I could easily have 30 years left and I’m operating from that reality. I’ve been to 40 countries and have more than 2.5 million air miles. I’ll continue to rack those up, I’d imagine. What drives a lot of the travel is what I do for a living, the research, forecasting and analysis I do. Travel, hobbies, where I live and what I do for a living is one big mesh because of it.