say Jim Goodnight
can sense the future, but
he also knows the importance of living today
By Phil Kirk
For a very public figure, Jim
Goodnight remains a very private person. It's fitting
that his brainchild, SAS Institute, is the largest
privately-held software company in the world.
The 57-year-old Goodnight
he'll turn 58 in January is a
multi-billionaire and one of the wealthiest people in
America. He oversees 7,500 employees in 150 offices
worldwide, some 3,500 of whom work out of SAS
headquarters in Cary.
Its software is used by 98
of the Fortune 100 companies. When the U.S. Census Bureau
counts and categorizes population, it does so with SAS
(Statistical Analysis System) software.
We are a knowledge
company, Goodnight says. Ninety-five percent
of our assets drive in and out the front gate every day
and my job is to make sure they come back.
He manages by
delegation. Where once as many as 26 people
reported directly to Goodnight, a reorganization in
management has reduced that number to five. I'm
here to sort of nudge the ship along, he says in
his usual low-key manner.
style is effective, and it inspires loyalty from his
employees. Mary Musacchia, counsel to the president,
government relations and public policy, says, Jim
can see around corners. In the early '90s, people were
saying mainframes were dead. Jim said mainframes aren't
dead, and time proved him right.
When I think of SAS,
I hear a line from a Barbara Mandrell song, `I was
country before country was cool.' That is SAS. We were
making intelligence form data in the 1960s and using
computers to do the work. That was Jim. Now the industry
talks the talk of data mining, but Jim walked the walk
long before it had a name. Jim is approachable if you
have something worthwhile to share. He is very
intelligent and will ask probing questions, so be
prepared. When Jim hears ideas that make sense to him, he
SAS inSchool Director John
Boling has worked on the Goodnight team for 20 years.
Jim has the unique ability to not only be visionary
but also the skills to translate that vision into a
successful business plan, he says. In today's
world you typically find a visionary who does not have
good implementation skills or vice versa but not both.
Jim excels in both areas. He possesses the uncanny
ability to anticipate changes in an information
technology industry that is constantly changing.
Most importantly, he
places great emphasis on hiring talented people whom he
entrusts to deliver on the mandate. His executive
managers are provided complete support to fulfill the
corporate objectives. He, more than anyone else, has
defined the SAS culture and inspired a loyalty among his
Goodnight was born in
Salisbury and lived in Greensboro until moving to
Wilmington at the age of 12. As a youth, he often worked
in his dad's hardware store in Wilmington. His parents,
Albert Goodnight and Dorothy Patterson Goodnight, are
deceased. Even at a young age, math and chemistry were
his strongest subjects thanks in part, he says, to
a wonderful chemistry teacher at New Hanover
High School. He applied to North Carolina State and the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and opted
for the Raleigh school largely because of his friendship
with Roman Gabriel, a star football player from
Wilmington who went on to an All-American career as a
quarterback for the Wolfpack.
Goodnight fell in love
with computers in the one computer course he took at N.C.
State in his sophomore year. In mid-stream, a light
went on, and I fell in love, making machines which do
things for other people, he says. The following
summer he got a job writing programs for the agricultural
economics department. The intrigue has never waned. A few
years later, while working on his master's, his curiosity
was piqued over the prospect of man being sent to the
moon. His programming skills helped him land a position
with a company building electronic equipment for the
ground stations that would communicate with the Apollo
space capsules. Goodnight and his wife, Anne, whom he had
met as a senior at N.C. State she was attending
Meredith College moved to Florida.
Disney World it wasn't.
His new workplace stifled productivity. It was noisy and
cramped. Management maintained a short leash. Heck, he
couldn't even get a free cup of coffee in the office.
When Anne's father became ill, Goodnight called N.C.
State to see if he could continue his graduate studies. A
short time later, he was back in his old surroundings.
It was like I never left, he says.
It wasn't long before
Goodnight struck gold. While working toward a Ph.D. in
statistics, he hooked up with Jim Barr, who had recently
returned to N.C. State after working at IBM. The two
parlayed their expertise to lay the foundation for what
would become SAS. The idea was to design a statistical
program that would make sense out of the endless
agricultural data streaming into the school. SAS debuted
in 1968. Ten years of steady growth later, the company
could call 600 customers its own.
THE gated SAS campus was
built in 1981. It lies adjacent to Interstate 40 and
Harrison Avenue in Cary, and looks like a huge college
campus rather than a world-class business. The campus is
growing, and is expected to continue to do so. A 20th
office building has been added, as well as another
cafeteria and an additional child care center. More than
34,000 flowers were planted last year alone. When work
gets frantic, masseuses are on site to alleviate
There are even high chairs
and baby seats in the cafeteria to encourage families to
eat together. A 35,000-square-foot fitness center
encourages workouts, and there's time for such things
because SAS has a seven-hour workday.
Goodnight is not a big
meetings person. He would rather wander the
halls and talk with employees, always learning while
teaching. His desk stays clean, and he often moves his
office to be with a group working on something that
Employees eat lunch to the
sounds of a pianist that is, if they're still
hungry. Hundreds of pounds of M&Ms in equal
amounts of plain and peanut are delivered to each
floor of each building every Wednesday. There's also
unlimited free soft drinks, tea, coffee and juice.
Why shouldn't the
company pay for coffee and snacks? Goodnight asks,
remembering a different time and attitude in Florida.
Expensing these things became a way of life long
Goodnight is not out to
win honors; rather, he sees the value in retaining
employees and their loyalty, creativeness and high level
of productivity. While the annual savings of perhaps $75
million because of low attrition is important, it is
obvious that Goodnight understands the value and worth of
his employees as individuals and as members of their
families and the SAS family.
However, the working
conditions at SAS are known worldwide and the recognition
has been coming to the Cary business on a regular basis,
more prominently three top-10 rankings (currently No. 6)
in Fortune magazine's annual list of 100 Best
Companies to Work For.
magazine dubbed SAS Sanity Inc. and said on
its cover, You can create great products, beat the
competition, make good money, and go home at 5
I believe that a
person's surroundings have a lot to do with how a person
feels, he says. We try to have nice
Few would argue with the
SAS workplace-friendly policies. No one could question
the results employee attrition often averages less
than four percent a year in an industry that often tops
20 percent. Jim has remarkable instincts, and SAS'
exemplary workplace is a prime example of that,
Musacchia says. He believes in providing a
tremendous amount of individual freedom, where employees
are given responsibilities and are trusted to do what
needs to be done. It has resulted in an environment that
fosters the kind of loyalty that you seldom find
Facilities and candy are
not the only employee benefit techniques. While some
companies are able to offer stock options, SAS cannot.
Instead, there is no limit on sick leave and employees
can stay home to take care of ill family members. There
are other perks: Last year, employees received $16
million in bonuses and $30 million in profit sharing,
according to Goodnight.
rotten, we really are, says Karen Thomas-Smith, a
systems analyst who missed five months of work after
near-fatal complications from delivering twin daughters.
Her husband, Joe Smith, a SAS network administrator,
missed three months. Says Smith, If you have to
work in corporate America, this is the place to
The Goodnights had a
personal experience that has increased their involvement
in education. They took their son out of the public
middle school their daughters had attended.
conditions, a lack of technology, and classes which were
too large were the main reasons they temporarily
abandoned the public schools. They started Cary Academy
in 1996, a high-technology private school next to the SAS
campus. Yet, they've maintained an interest in improving
Cary Academy works with
public school teachers to sharpen their technology
skills. Just recently, it was announced that the
Goodnights will head the Funds for Education Campaign for
the Wake Education Partnership next year. This group
works to support public schools in Wake County and
finances many improvements.
The third way is an
integral part of SAS. Called SAS inSchool, this division
develops content-based educational software that contains
the framework for a new generation of teaching courseware
designed to further the use of technology as a learning
tool in public, private, charter, and home schools.
Staff at SAS inSchool
includes teachers, multimedia graphic designers,
instructional designers and technologists, and computer
programmers. It lost $5 million last year and will
probably lose another $15 million before it makes a
profit. However, Goodnight's passion for education
figures to mean the division eventually will be a
money-making success. SAS donates cash, computers and
other resources to area public schools and non-profit
groups such as the Family Literacy Center of North
Carolina and Communities in Schools. Scholarships are
provided for Cary Academy, North Carolina A&T
University and N.C. State.
John Boling, director of
SAS inSchool, said, By implementing a successful
technology infrastructure coupled with rigorous digital
curricula and sufficient staff development at Cary
Academy, (Goodnight's) vision is being viewed as the
model school today for effective technology integration
and usage. The results are already benefiting public
schools nationally and many schools are moving toward
replicating the model.
Like all successful
companies, SAS isn't adverse to change. There's a new
company logo, a new image and a $30 million national
television and print advertising push. The Power to
Know is the company slogan. And the changes go
deeper. Personnel moves in management have been
implemented during a year when speculation increased that
SAS would relinquish its claim as the largest private
software company in the world by going public.
At the same time, SAS
announced it would begin investing in other companies.
The hiring of mover and shaker Andre Boisvert as vice
president of business development and strategic
investments showed that Goodnight was serious.
SAS is expected to shed
its quiet image and become better known across the
country and throughout the world. In addition to an added
emphasis on marketing, partnering with other companies
will become more common. This shift in strategy is
expected to make SAS more attractive to Wall Street as a
potential customer. Yet with all the changes, there are
some things that remain constant. New technologies,
new approaches to problem solving, and new internal
processes are to be expected, Goodnight says.
But our corporate foundation of delivering superior
products and services and always doing the right thing
will remain unchanged today and tomorrow.
Goodnight has seen
thousands of software companies both fade and blossom
during the past 25 years. Some have failed because they
didn't change with the technology and others were the
victims of poor management.
SAS has often been at the
forefront of change and innovation, and thus has
prospered. In the 1999 annual report, Goodnight writes,
Yet here we are, moving forward together with our
customers in the most exciting, earth-shaking era in
modern history a time of change exceeding that of
the Industrial Revolution. Today computing is all about,
and business is all about, one thing: `e.' SAS is in the
best possible position to help our customers not only
succeed in the `e-arena,' but thrive there.
SAS revenues surpassed the
$1 billion mark last year. The target in 2003 is $2
billion, and it jumps to $5 billion two years later. That
will require a growth rate of 20 percent or so a year,
compared to a 16-17 percent growth rate the past couple
Goodnight's work schedule
is quite different from the normal CEO. I arrive in
the office by 9 a.m., take an hour off for lunch and
leave around 5, he says. That schedule should not
fool any of Goodnight's competitors. An avid reader, he
goes over business journals most nights. He rarely finds
time for golf, which may explain his 22 handicap.
Exercise comes from regular stints on the treadmill and
frequent walks with his wife. Pushing away from
food is the best exercise, he says with a smile.
Jim has a quirky
sense of humor, Musacchia says. While working
on a development project, he set up a temporary office in
a basement. SouthPeak (a SAS subsidiary) had just
finished using props for two games it had developed and
Jim had some of these sent over to decorate the basement
hallway. Today, you can walk down this hall and be
confronted by gargoyles, Greco-Roman statues, and a
sideboard that looks like it came from Versailles.
Goodnight believes that
business people should not ignore politics. I see
over-regulation and absolute waste in government,
he says, adding that government emphasis should be at the
state level. He has discussed such weighty subjects as
taxes with George W. Bush, and supports opening up trade
in China, where SAS currently has four offices.
SAS maintains a
diversified portfolio of investments, and Goodnight
personally has numerous other business interests. He led
an investment group a few years ago that bailed out
Midway Airlines for $22 million and kept it here. Today,
he still is a large stockholder. Throughout the
evolution of business, one thing has remained unchanged:
the pivotal role of information in making
decisions, Goodnight writes in the most recent SAS
annual report. The most successful companies are
the ones that gather the best data and turn it into
actionable knowledge about their customers, their
suppliers and their own organizations.
The Goodnight philosophy,
leadership style, and vision are expected to result in
continued growth of SAS Institute. That's good news for
Goodnight, and it's also good news for Cary, the Research
Triangle Park area, employees, their families and the
state of North Carolina.
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL. This article first appeared in the
December 2000 issue of the North Carolina magazine
Phil Kirk can be reached at email@example.com
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