What’s the state of SAS? Suffice it to quote Jim Davis, its chief marketing officer who says “Our sales funnel is flow,” and “We’re actually pretty pleased.”

As the International Monetary Fund warns that another global recession may be at hand, the “sales funnel” at SAS worldwide is full.

Revenues are increasing.

The company’s remarkable streak of increase sales every year since its launch in 1976 by Chief Executive Officer Jim Goodnight and his co-founder John Sall is most likely to continue.

In an exclusive interview with WRAL Tech Wire ahead of SAS’ annual media day on Tuesday, Davis spelled out in detail how the world’s largest privately held software firm continues to grow in the increasingly competitive business of data analytics and intelligence.

Heading into the year’s final quarter, Davis pointed out: “We’re not going to have our record of increasing revenues broken by any means. We’re going to be profitable, no doubt.”

In 2011, SAS revenues soared 12 percent to a record $2.725 billion. Davis isn’t sure SAS can replicate that big an increase this year, but he added cheerfully: “It’s going to be close.”

If SAS can push sales through that funnel at the rate Davis wants, the company just might cross the $3 billion barrier. If so, SAS could double its revenues from 2004 of $1.53 billion. SAS didn’t even cross the $1 billion mark until 1999. (Its first-year revenues way back in 1976 were $138,000.)

Hiring, More Hiring

To support its growth, SAS continues to hire employees with 160 openings in the U.S. alone.

“Globally, our headcount is up 6.2 percent so far this year,” Davis said. “We’re up 6.2 percent in the U.S., 4.4 percent in North Carolina. Our sales organization continues to build out. it’s actually spread pretty evenly, and we’re looking to fill openings with people who have expertise in fraud, risk and professional services.”

SAS ended 2011 with 12, 553, with more than 4,800 in Cary. SAS currently has 13,268 employees worldwide with more than 5,000 of those at its headquarters.

And Davis said job openings will continue to be posted.

“I don’t see the hiring slowing down,” he said. “In fact, we’re already above what we expected, which was 3-to-4 percent.” 

The 2011 hiring rate was even higher at 9.2 percent, but Davis noted the books are far from closed for 2012.

Plans are underway for two additional buildings on its headquarters campus in Cary even as construction continues on another, which will contain 650 offices at its grand opening in 2014. Davis noted that the new structures have yet to be permitted or funded.

More New, Updated Products

To deal with increasing demand for more sophisticated solutions in parsing the exploding amounts of data, SAS continues to roll out new products with an emphasis on high performance analytics. The new building under construction now is designed to support that emerging business, Davis noted. SAS also continues to refine and update existing offerings.

Positive news from analysts also continues to bolster SAS. In a new report from Gartner just out last week, SAS is ranked in the “Magic Quadrant” of another important sector: Governance, risk and compliance.

SAS continues to grow its customer base worldwide despite Europe’s continuing fiscal woes and slowing growth in Asia.

“Things are looking very good in the U.S. with sales up in the low double digits,” Davis explained. “We’re looking at high double digits in Asia and Pacific. In Europe-Middle East-Asia, sales are up just a little bit. But there’s so much going on over there from an economic perspective. I’m actually OK with how we are doing.”

However, Davis is not letting up pressure on SAS’ sales team to close deals.

“We’ve got a lot of business to close,” he stressed. “I’d be concerned if our sales funnel wasn’t full. It’s a matter of how we push it through. If the sales funnel were not full, then we’d have a problem.”

Despite slow economic growth, demand for SAS products remains strong because it is offering value, not just technology, Davis explained.

“We talk less in terms of technology and more in terms of return on investment,” Davis said. Products such as retail and fraud analysis help customers drive more sales while reducing theft, and since SAS is hardware neutral clients can most times add SAS solutions without having to make significant investments in servers and other equipment, he noted. SAS also is offering more hosted solutions where data is housed and analyzed at SAS data centers, he added.

Acquisitions in Offing?

One means of growth for SAS is acquiring other firms and their technology. Earlier this year, SAS bought Raleigh-based startup aiMatch, an advertising intelligence firm, and quickly folded its technology into SAS offerings. But Davis downplayed any big news on that front.

“There’s nothing active right now,” he said. “We looked at a potential acquisition in Europe as part of our fraud initiative. Instead, we hired people.”

Each year, SAS executives are asked if the company might be acquired by a larger rival? Back in June, a story surfaced that Goodnight told IBM some years back he wasn’t interested in selling.

Davis said the talk of a deal is ongoing.

“We always show up in financial analysts’ reports that somebody might buy us because we are hot in the analytics space,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of flattery, but I see no signs that [co-founders] Jim and John want to go and do anything else.”

[SAS ARCHIVE: Check out a decade of SAS stories as reported in WRAL Tech Wire.]