Dr. James Goodnight | Business Roundtable

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Data has become the lifeblood of our world, pumping through the heart of everything. And, any place there is data, you need analytics to make the most of it. If you’re Jim Goodnight, this spells opportunity. Goodnight is CEO of SAS, the world’s leading business intelligence software vendor. At the helm since the company’s incorporation in 1976, Goodnight has overseen a 41-year unbroken chain of revenue growth – a feat almost unheard of in the software industry.

SAS software was originally created by Goodnight and North Carolina State University colleagues to analyze agricultural-research data. Four decades later, it’s doing things Goodnight never imagined in his days as a doctoral student in statistics.

Today, SAS is best known for sifting massive mountains of data for FORTUNE 500 companies and other organizations most people have heard of. SAS Analytics helps businesses across all industries make smarter decisions about their customers, their operations and their futures. Insurance companies use SAS to flag fraudulent claims. Retailers use SAS to find profitable places to put stores and products within those stores. More 90 percent of the top 100 global banks use SAS to keep up with ever-evolving risk management regulations, make credit decisions or to anticipate and address the needs of their customers. Both utilities and manufacturers use SAS to accurately predict outages and schedule down times for maintenance to keep their customer’s power on and trucks carrying needed supplies on the road.

With its unique business model (software licensed annually) and solid reputation for innovation (SAS annually reinvests about 25% of revenue back into R&D), SAS is the world’s largest privately owned software company. SAS is also renowned for its corporate culture, which has made it a fixture on “Best Places to Work” lists (including FORTUNE’s.)

The company’s strategy to keep employees and realize peak performance from them has been showcased as a best practice and business model in myriad international publications, including Harvard Business Review. Goodnight co-wrote the piece, “Managing for Creativity,” with author Richard Florida, asserting that companies prosper when they make best use of their “creative capital” – that is, creative thinkers whose ideas generate valuable products and services.

“Innovation is the key to success in this business, and creativity fuels innovation,” Goodnight said. “Creativity is especially important to SAS because software is a product of the mind. As such, 95 percent of my assets drive out the gate every evening. It’s my job to maintain a work environment that keeps those people coming back every morning. The creativity they bring to SAS is a competitive advantage for us.”

Outspoken on education reform, Goodnight sees education as critical to the success of people, organizations and nations. Goodnight himself holds a doctorate in statistics from North Carolina State University, where he was a faculty member from 1972 to 1976. His passion for learning has since led him to endow several NCSU professorships and make education the focus of SAS’ philanthropy. Together with his wife, Ann, he co-founded Cary Academy in 1996, an independent college preparatory day school for students in grades six through 12, with the goal of creating a model school for integrating technology into all facets of education.

Shortly before Cary Academy opened, Goodnight launched what is now known as Curriculum Pathways – free educational tools, digital resources and mobile learning apps to help schools worldwide prepare students for success in the knowledge economy.  In addition, the company offers many free and low-cost options for accessing SAS analytics software for teaching and learning – whether you’re a teacher, professor, student, academic researcher or independent learner.

Even SAS’ corporate headquarters has a distinctly academic feel, nestled on 900 wooded acres that employees call the “campus.” SAS’ nearly 14,000 employees are among the industry’s most loyal. In the software business, yearly turnover of 18 to 20 percent is the norm. At SAS, it’s around 4 percent.

SAS commitment to corporate social responsibility can be seen with campus projects such as its eight solar installations, wireless energy and waste tracking, and LEED-certified buildings – more than 75% in fact. In just the past decade, SAS has improved energy efficiency in their office buildings a full 28 percent; diverted more than 50 percent of waste away from landfills, and generated more than 3.8 million kilowatt-hours annually of clean, renewable energy from solar installations.

Goodnight has also been an active speaker and participant at the World Economic Forum, where business and world leaders discuss cross-boundary issues such as international standards, regulations and the global economic issues.

Harvard Business School once named Jim Goodnight one of the “20th Century’s Great American Business Leaders” for his many decades of leading a business that has changed the way Americans have lived, worked and interacted in the 20th century. That same year, he was named one of America’s 25 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs by Inc. magazine, in honor of the publication’s 25th anniversary.