I had the chance to visit the SAS campus for their annual Media Day a short while ago, and received an update from their illustrious Co-founder and CEO, Jim Goodnight. Mr. Goodnight has been lauded by Harvard Business School as one of the 20th century’s great American business leaders. As boss of the fiercely independent SAS, he was someone I looked forward to meeting.
SAS’s growth has been inexorably impressive for over 30 years. Most recently the company saw 15% growth in revenue in 2007 (to US$2.15B), and are already up over 12.4 percent this year. (What recession?)
Internationally, SAS is continuing to shoot the lights out in Asia Pacific (up 25-30 percent) and notably South America, especially Brazil (nearly 30 percent growth). Revenues from India alone are up 90 percent in the last 12 months. ‘The nice thing about being a global company is that we are fuelled by healthy areas all around the world,’ noted Goodnight.
Over the course of the interview I tried to get at some of the reasons for the company’s success:
Peter Traynor: Jim, thanks for your time, I’ll throw a quote at you if I may. It’s from the great Polish novelist, Joseph Conrad, who once said “It is the mark of the inexperienced man not to believe in his own luck.”… Notwithstanding the strong SAS business model, and the competencies of your people, and so on, can I ask you how much plain luck may have played a part in SAS’s solid success over the years?
Jim Goodnight: I don’t think a lot. We’ve had numbers of challenges over the years that we’ve had to rise to and make major decisions on, and most of them turned out to have been correct. Some haven’t.
PT: Some mistakes were inevitably made along the way…
JG: Yeah, certainly we’ve made mistakes – we’ve made our share of mistakes. But that’s allowed around here. That’s part of the culture, you know, you can make a mistake and you can still keep your job… unless it’s a really bad one, or you do it twice! [laughter]
PT: Of course, some of your own tools are used to make your analysis and decisions…
JG: Certainly. My whole dashboard that I use is all based on SAS tools.
PT: Can you tell me what metrics you track on your own personal dashboard to monitor the performance of the company?
JG: Primarily it’s what the pipeline looks like. We use our pipeline forecast to make sure that we’ve got the right professional services people available to meet the demand for some new solution, for example, that we may be working on. And also to alert our tech support group that we have a growing demand for this particular product and they should have sufficient expertise and resources on hand to support it.
And then we look at financial numbers on a daily basis. I see all the revenue from around the world every day, and that gives me the confidence about whether to speed up or slow down. We’re always either speeding up or slowing down at SAS.
PT: Under what circumstances would you decide you had to “slow down”?