Jim Goodnight runs the world’s largest privately held software company with more than $3 billion in revenues and operations from China to Latin America. Yet the billionaire founder of SAS continues to invest in jobs and in facilities at the company’s Cary headquarters.
On Tuesday, he unveiled the latest building – a massive structure named “Q” – and he talked about more jobs.
So why build in N.C.?
There are many reasons, perhaps none more than old-fashioned loyalty.
“This is my state,” Goodnight said in an interview following the media event that officially opened “Q.” He was responding to this question: “You could build anywhere and hire anywhere. Why here?”
“I was born here,” the Wilmington native added. “There’s a feeling of loyalty.”
With a wry grin, he threw in the standard comments that many people who love North Carolina like to use in praise.
“The beach is two hours away. The mountains are three hours away.”
Business, talent too
But Goodnight is a smart businessman who, along with co-founder John Sall, launched SAS 38 years ago with not much more than some ideas about how to transform statistics and a fax machine near the North Carolina State University campus on Hillsborough Street where both men taught. They now are the two richest people in North Carolina as documented by Forbes and Fortune.
Now in his 70s, Goodnight is as committed to growing SAS as he was as a young entrepreneur. He noted with pride the company’s continued financial growth (38 straight years) and an ever-expanding work force that is headed well north of 5,000 alone in Cary over the next three years.
The six-story “Q,” which covers 220,000 square feet, provides enough work space for more than 670 people, and Goodnight said the additional room beyond that devoted to cutting-edge “cloud” workers who will call Q home will accommodate workers to be hired.
But Goodnight had other reasons for picking Cary as the place for Q. Another building, known as P, is nearing completion, by the way. And Goodnight says SAS is already planning another.
“There is a lot of talent here,” Goodnight said, pointing to the steady stream of graduates produced by his own alma mater N.C. State and other schools. (He launched a master’s program in analytics at NCSU.) Then there is the fact the Research Triangle has become such a technology hub over the last 50 years.
The Cary R&D legion
And let’s not forget the SAS legion in Cary.
“Most of our R&D people are here,” said Goodnight, who remains an avid programmer and someone who loves to mix it up with the best minds he can hire as they debate future opportunities for “big data,” “visual analytics” and predictive analysis. “We have 100 or so in Beijing and 400 or so India, and they are doing some very good work.”
But Cary remains the heart and soul of the company even though SAS employs nearly two thirds of its total work force elsewhere. And Goodnight stressed that despite all the advances in Internet technology, from videoconferencing to Skype to gigabit Internet, the engineers need face time.
“Our people need to be close to each other, together,” Goodnight stressed.”You just need that interaction.” Even in real-time video links, Goodnight said collaboration “maybe gets a little stiff.”
Throughout the event Wednesday morning, Goodnight was anything but stiff. He jousted a bit with top VIP guest Gov. Pat McCrory about economic incentives, labeled one reporter’s question about growth in 2014 revenues as “silly” and later joked to the media gaggle as he answered a barrage of questions while adorned with microphones.
McCrory told the crowd that every time he came on the SAS campus nestled alongside I-40 he says “Wow!”
The Q only adds to the “wow” factor. It is indeed an imposing sight, loaded with amenities, LEED environmental standards and solar panels on the roof to augment the solar farm SAS already houses.
And SAS continues to hire – perhaps the most important factor of all for the local economy.
“We are ALWAYS looking for talent,” Goodnight said. “Some we hire right on the spot if they meet our criteria.”
A lot of that hiring happens right here in North Carolina.