CARY, N.C. If you’re troubled about how much damage your 401(k) plan has suffered in the Wall Street meltdown, billionaire Jim Goodnight of SAS shares your pain.

“I called John,” he said, his voice rising as he recalled a conversation with Cisco Chairman and Chief Executive John Chambers, “and asked ‘What’s wrong with our stock?’”

While stocks went on to rise nearly 900 points later in the day of our interview, Goodnight described the global financial situation as a “panic.” But he also said now is a good time to put money back into the market because plunging prices have affected good companies as well as bad ones. “Especially tech stocks,” he said. “They look good.”

At the SAS media day Tuesday, the Skinny and WRAL’s Valonda Calloway talked with Goodnight about how his holdings have fared – and what advice he is giving others.

An intensely private man and No. 102 on the Forbes magazine list of the  world’s richest people ($4.4 billion in March), Goodnight chose to open up a bit.

“About 40 percent,” he said of his stock portfolio hit. Fortunately for him, Goodnight said, some 90 percent of his investments are in more secure bonds.

Goodnight noted that the Cisco stock is an example of good value. Chambers told Goodnight that he didn’t understand, either, why Cisco shares have taken such a huge hit. Earnings and business are good yet …

The Skinny asked Goodnight what advice he is giving others, especially SAS employees.

“It will take a couple of years to recover,” he said of the markets. “That means people may have to work a little longer – and we will be glad to keep them!”

Goodnight prizes employee retention, providing employees with a wide variety of services from on-campus health care to M&Ms and fruit. Each media day, he points out how SAS has fared in best-place-to-work lists.

Asked how SAS shares its financial success with employees, he noted SAS matches 401(k) contributions up to 3 percent. Without prodding, Goodnight also said SAS pays 15 percent in profit sharing. Given that SAS has set records for revenues for 32 consecutive years and is profitable every year, that “sharing” has to be a nice bit of change.

Goodnight is pretty confident SAS will set another revenue record this year, unless the markets completely tank in the fourth quarter. He sees a rally coming – both in business and stocks.

Thus the word he is giving to SAS employees and passing on to others: “The market is about to get to the bottom, and when it does, it is going to take off.”

And to benefit from that rally, Goodnight added, people have to be willing to invest in order to regain – or grow beyond – what they have lost.

“You’ve got to be in the market if you are to benefit when it goes back up,” he said.

Once a rally occurs, Goodnight noted, investors will have to judge best when they feel it’s time to cash out. Goodnight conceded he considered pulling back from the market a year ago when the Street was at a record 14,000. (It’s now around 9,000).

“But I was travelling,” he said, "and I didn’t get out. I wish I had."