Editor’s note: Rick Smith is editor and cofounder of WRAL TechWire, which launched in 2002.

CARY – SAS employees may finally get a chance to share in the bounty – other than salary and benefits – of the $3 billion-a-year software firm that calls Cary home for thousands of workers.

That’s because an initial public offering of stock, or an IPO, could mean SAS employees have a chance to receive and/or buy shares.

“We expect employees will have the ability to purchase equity if SAS becomes a publicly traded company, and we will provide details on that at the appropriate time,” SAS spokesperson Shannon Heath told TechWire this morning after the potential IPO move was announced.

No such stock option is currently available to employees, former employees have told TechWire. Cofounders and billionaires Jim Goodnight and John Sall own all shares. Tech firms have used options  and rewards for years, from startups to the giants, to provide workers with additional incentives to stay loyal and work hard. After all, they are part owners.

An IPO option in which employees could benefit was among the go-forward possibilities TechWire discussed with several sources two weeks ago when Goodnight declared the company was not for sale. Media reports about Goodnight talking with tech giant Broadcom about a possible sale for some $20 billion led to a breakdown of the talks.

Goodnight allued to sharing more wealth today.

“By moving toward IPO readiness we can open up new opportunities for SAS employees, customers, partners and our community to participate in our success ensuring the brightest possible future for all of us,” Goodnight said in the announcement. 

Rick Smith, WRAL TechWire’s editor and a cofounder, writes The Skinny.

However, an IPO would permit Goodnight and Sall to maintain control of the company while also giving them the chance to share in the wealth with employees.

SAS workers for years have enjoyed good pay, awesome benefits (such as free healthcare and on-site daycare – and plenty of M&Ms) as well as a piano player or two in the company restaurant (cafeteria doesn’t really explain the bounty and quality of what’s offered.)

Sources – former long-term employees – told TechWire that stock options were not available.

But now comes a chance to own stock which might be a boost to retirement plans.

The IPO move also didn’t come as a surprise to people who know Goodnight.

Here’s what TechWire published two weeks ago:

One former exec says Goodnight issued his “not for sale” email to staffers  in order to stop erosion of morale – which plummeted  among employees who feared a deal. News about a possible Broadcom by broke on Monday via the Wall Street Journal.

But Goodnight “can change on a dime,” one exec notes, and he could change his mind at any time. After all, he owns two thirds of the company (Sall the other third). He’s also a “very smart guy” whom people can underestimate due to a folksy persona that masks a drive which made SAS a company worth as much as $20 billion and him a multi-billionaire, another exec says.

What’s next?

What path SAS will take remains unclear. But a three-year-window give Goodnight and Sall the opportunities to focus on a bottm line that remains in the black – but flat – and address any organizational needs. Those could include senior management with IPO experience and/or finding outside consultant and assistance from someone such as a Goldman Sachs. (SAS explored an IPO with Goldman Sachs handling it years ago – plans were later dropped.)

SAS also could chose to sell a small share of the company to generate cash.

Not addressed was any strategy for transition in the event either Goodnight or Sall (both in their 70s) run into health issues. But SAS says a succession plan is in place.

Not for sale? Don’t rule out a SAS deal yet – Goodnight has other options