Leadership better than fiction

I finally saw “Iron Man 3” this past weekend and enjoyed it thoroughly. This might be expected given that I’m a bit of a comic book junkie but, in addition, parts of the movie were filmed where I’ve worked for the past 22 years, SAS in Cary, NC.

In the building that served as the home for the fictitious Stark Industries works a real-life industry leader, maybe not a super hero but still a hero of sorts to the more than thirteen thousand employees who work for SAS.

I will admit that I’ve put off writing about Jim Goodnight for some time, because some might question the authenticity of a laudatory post about the President and CEO of the company providing my paycheck. (Note that these opinions are completely my own and not those of SAS.)  Still, if you’re looking for examples of leadership, the kind of spirit that embodies the American dream, it would be difficult to discount the actions that Dr. Goodnight has taken over the course of the past 37 years in building SAS into the world’s largest privately-held software company.

I cite the following:

The time he started a business — Dr. Goodnight could have had a comfortable life as a professor but realized that he had something special in the form of the statistical procedures he had developed for his research. When SAS Institute Inc. was formed, the notion of making it big in software was not common.

The time he re-engineered his bread-and-butter product — Dr. Goodnight saw the potential of the C programming language in making it possible for SAS software to run on all popular programming platforms. He changed the development language for SAS from PL/I to C in what became a hugely important technical move.

The time he decided not to go public — When the rest of the computer industry was cashing out by going public, Dr. Goodnight ultimately decided to keep SAS private. This has given him the freedom to run the company in the way he thinks best, rather than doing what short-sighted stockholders might want.

The time he started a school — Dr. Goodnight and his wife Anne found that the kind of school they wanted was lacking in the community where they lived, so they funded the building of Cary Academy, a private school near the SAS campus which hires talented teachers willing to use appropriate technology to carry out its demanding curriculum.

The time he refused layoffs — In the recession that began in 2008, many companies laid-off workers to avoid losses. Dr. Goodnight went to his employees and simply asked that they watch their spending. Through careful expenditures, the company managed to keep its 13,000 employees with no layoffs and another profitable year in the books.

There are many more examples of Jim Goodnight’s leadership I could cite. If it seems an indulgence to write complimentary things about one’s employer, then I hope you’ll grant me such every 22 years. To ignore these lessons would be to miss an opportunity to learn.


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