Workplace utopia fosters SAS innovation

The headquarters of SAS Institute doubles as a self-contained world of ­innovation. Housed on 300 acres in Cary, N.C., the tech giant’s campus offers its 14,000 em­ployees a chance to concentrate on ­creativity with a minimum of distractions.

Jim Goodnight co-founded the privately held company in 1976. The 71-year-old is still CEO of the firm, which provides business analytics to corporations.

During the 2008-09 recession, Goodnight didn’t just promise job security to his workforce. He also challenged them to use the slowdown to innovate. Their efforts led to a breakthrough in helping companies calculate risk quickly and harness massive computing power.

Among software firms, employee turnover averages 15.5% a year. At SAS, it’s about 4%. Such high retention saves SAS $100 million each year that would other­­wise go to recruiting and training.

Why the low turnover? Goodnight has created a place that employees love.

“We don’t want people to be distracted by outside concerns when we need them to focus on innovation,” he says. “The ­creativity they bring to SAS is a competitive advantage, and it’s my job to maintain a work environment that keeps them eager to come back every morning.”

The campus includes a 66,000-square-foot fitness and recreation center. Employees can even watch movies from the pool.

They also benefit from flexible work schedules that enable people to customize how they tackle projects and prevent them from burning out—a common hazard among software developers. Satisfied, well-rested employees make fewer mistakes, which in turn pleases clients who find that SAS software contains fewer bugs.

Thanks to Goodnight’s commitment to invest in an attractive workspace where people can innovate freely, SAS received 50,000 applications for 300 openings last year. It reported $3.02 billion in 2013 revenue.

— Adapted from “Jim Goodnight Makes SAS A Leading Analyst Of Data,” Scott Smith, Investor’s Business Daily.