Goodnight is an old-school CEO
Goodnight positions himself as an atypical CEO because he is not interested in lobbying Washington or serving as a public relations agent for his company. Even so, SAS pays a lobbying group to push for favorable legislation.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Jim Goodnight, July 22, 1999. Interview I-0073. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
JM: You mentioned a moment ago that more and more politicians have come calling in recent years, seeking your support in their campaigns. Have you looked back and reflected on the process by which you were courted and drawn in to those wider circles of influence as SAS reached a particular level of prominence and you at its helm?
JG: Well, I don't think we've reached any level of being drawn in. I'm still very peripheral on this. I have found over the years that there's not a whole lot of influence that you have on politics. They just seem to wander in the direction that they want to wander in. You get to Washington and everything is totally dominated by what party you belong to. It's the head of the party that makes most of the decisions about the direction. I don't know. I don't think it's worth a lot of time being spent trying to pay for influence. I just don't think that one single person can do that.
JM: It's interesting. You read these days about the modern CEO of the new global corporation. Many analysts would point to that person as having heretofore unattained influence -- that this is a new level of scope and scale that hasn't really previously been in existence. I was going to ask you a question about sense of the modern CEO of a globe-spanning enterprise. What it is to wear that hat, to be asked to play that role?
JG: Well, I am perhaps unlike other pure CEOs. As a matter of fact, I don't even have that as a title. I'm just president of SAS. A CEO’s job of a large corporation these days, is more of a PR person, a person out front. The CEO is not really running the company. The president back home is in charge of running the company. The CEO is just the primary PR. [He or she is the] point person for the company [and], as such, needs to be the person that does in fact try to make calls on key senators and talk to them. Some of our friends out at Glaxo, [such as] Bob Ingram, who certainly is--. One of his responsibilities is to make sure that the lobbying that affects his industry is handled and has done it. We give some money annually to a lobbying group for technology. One of the things that we're working on now is getting the government to drop all its bans on encryption. Right now we've got export licenses to export 54-bit encryption, but we can't export 64-bit or 128-bit. These things are just making the US anti-competitive because in Europe you can get any degree of encryption you want because there are no restrictions.
JM: I'll extend this question of the modern person at the helm of this modern enterprise. Are you sought out much as a certain kind of oracle or sage on issues removed from the business? Often times persons in those roles today are sought out as persons of a unique sort of broad expertise.
JG: I'm not that sought out, no. I'm not really a great public speaker, although I guess this last year I've probably done more than I ever have before. As we're trying to move SAS into this billion dollar plus company, I am in fact being called on more to give talks. What I've been asked for more this past year, more than anything else, is to talk about work/family values. The kind of things that we do here at SAS -- that give us our low turnover rate. I've done a lot of talking about that. I'd rather be out talking about what great software we have -- you know trying to sell software -- but I'm being asked more and more to talk about the benefits.