for saying no to Wall Street (repeatedly) and yes to the people who really matter
Jim Goodnight is no stranger to readers of Inc. In 1982, SAS, the software company Goodnight founded in 1976 with fellow North Carolina State graduate student John Sall, was No. 15 on the Inc. Private 100, which evolved into the Inc. 500 the following year. By 1986, SAS had achieved Inc. 500 Hall of Fame status, having earned a place on the Inc. 500 list for five consecutive years. Today, SAS is a $1.3 billion company and the world's largest privately held software company, and while it long ago graduated from our list, it is now an almost yearly fixture on lists of the best companies to work for. Goodnight, by the way, was No. 62 on Forbes' most recent list of the 400 wealthiest individuals. And he still has no intention of sharing any of it with Wall Street.
"The fact that we're private means that we can make long-range decisions," says Goodnight. "We don't have to be worried about quarterly profits or about pleasing Wall Street. We just please our employees and our customers." So when the economy forced most other companies to lay off employees in 2001 and 2002, Goodnight took a contrarian's approach. "We decided there were so many people looking for jobs that we should take the opportunity to bring in some really first-class people," he says. "We accepted that our profits would be down, but that we would build for the future." SAS increased its domestic work force by 8.5%. And 2003 brought double-digit revenue growth.
Those new employees landed more than just jobs. They gained entree into one of the most progressive corporate cultures in the country. SAS's headquarters in Cary, N.C., looks more like a college campus than most college campuses do. There's a 77,000-square-foot health and fitness center, playing fields for soccer and softball, an on-site medical clinic, a dining hall with live piano music, two daycare centers, an eldercare referral service, unlimited sick days, and a masseuse who makes the rounds several times a week. Goodnight's explanation for this largesse is fairly simple: "If we keep our employees happy, they do a good job of keeping our customers happy." If SAS has a relatively low profile for a company of its size, that's because its software is employed mostly in corporate environments, in serious jobs. Companies use it to gather and mine huge amounts of data for Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, anti-money-laundering programs, customer-relationship marketing, pharmaceutical research, and copious other applications.
Recently, Goodnight created a corporate division called SAS in School, which develops Internet-based software for classroom use and reflects his intense passion for education reform. More of that passion can be seen in his co-founding of a private day school, called the Cary Academy, which Goodnight hopes will be emulated for its small class sizes and extensive use of technology. The academy uses SAS in School's software, as well as SAS's athletic facilities. "We're a big brother to the school," says Goodnight. "All corporations should get involved in the school system. The future of our country is in producing highly educated people. Otherwise we'll lose our high-tech jobs to India and China."--Donna Fenn
Donna Fenn is a contributing editor.