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Cary’s SAS named ‘best company to work for’

The Cary-based SAS was ranked No. 1 on Fortune magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.” As a part of its culture, the company provides food for its employees on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The Cary-based SAS was ranked No. 1 on Fortune magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.” As a part of its culture, the company provides food for its employees on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Traditions matter at SAS.

Each week, employees like software engineer Lee Anne Ryan look forward to complimentary bowls of goodies in the break rooms located on every floor of the company.

The Cary-based company, now the world’s largest privately-owned software seller, recently scored the No. 1 ranking on Fortune magazine’s annual list of “100 Best Companies to Work For,” beating out longtime powerhouses like Google, Edward Jones and DreamWorks Animation. Although SAS has been included on the list for more than a decade, it significantly improved from its No. 20 slot last year.

“We’ve got fresh fruit on Mondays, M&Ms on Wednesdays and breakfast pastries on Fridays,” Ryan said. “It’s a cornerstone of culture.”

In addition to morning treats, perks for SAS employees include on-site child care, unlimited sick days, 90-percent coverage of health insurance premiums, a health clinic, fitness center, swimming pool, reasonably-priced massages and a library, according to Fortune.

“SAS provides the kinds of convenience that enable people to do their best work,” Ryan said. “The support is phenomenal.”

Despite offering a warm work environment and extensive employee benefits, SAS still manages to remain profitable. Last year, revenue topped $2.31 billion in sales, up 2.2 percent from the previous year, according to the company’s Web site.

SAS sells software to businesses and agencies, allowing them to analyze data to determine patterns and trends. Customers range from universities to banks to baseball teams, and 79 percent of the companies in the Fortune 500 utilize the system, according to SAS’s Web site.

CEO Jim Goodnight co-founded the company in 1976 and has quickly established his reputation as an innovator in business and work practices, including allowing employees to set their own hours and pursue independent projects outside of their regular tasks.

“We know we have the trust of the executives here at SAS,” Corporate Press Manager Desiree Adkins said. “It’s easy to be innovative when you have a company that gives you the tools and resources needed to do your job, the brainpower to talk with colleagues and the trust to know that what you do will be worthwhile.”

The traditional hierarchy and secrecy of executives is absent at SAS, where transparency and open communication is valued. Still, the flexibility hardly fosters idleness, Ryan said.

“We are in an environment that encourages doing something right instead of simply getting it out the door,” she said. “It’s empowering.”

Fay Cobb Payton, associate professor of information systems at North Carolina State University, utilizes the SAS software in her classes. She said former students who are now employed at SAS find the environment stimulating and holistic.

Although the laid-back, employee-friendly culture may be prevalent in Silicon Valley, SAS is unique in the South. Tony O’Driscoll, professor of the practice of business administration at the Fuqua School of Business, said that although the existence of top universities and Ph.D. scholars in the Triangle created a fitting locale for SAS, the company is remarkably homegrown.

“SAS has become a household name, but it’s not monstrously huge,” O’Driscoll said. “It is a beacon of a local company that managed to emerge on the national scene.”

With an annual turnover of 2 percent—versus the national average of 22 percent in the software industry—and approximately 100 applicants per open position, SAS is already a competitive arena for employment. For at least the next several months, SAS will probably experience a massive influx of applicants as people migrate toward the Triangle area, O’Driscoll said.

Even with the company’s growth, loyal workers like Ryan have no intent to leave anytime soon—the company is like family, she said.

“Not only have I worked here for 13 years, but I have had the same manager for the last 10,” Ryan said. “How many people can say that these days?”

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