James Goodnight

NET WORTH: $9.7 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Cofounder of SAS Institute

FUNDING AREAS: Education, Arts & Culture

OVERVIEW: Goodnight is a strong champion of education and channels much of his philanthropic work in this area through his company. While Goodnight’s personal giving tends to focus on his home state of North Carolina, SAS gives to educational organizations throughout the country.

BACKGROUND: Goodnight grew up working in his father's hardware store and excelled in mathematics and chemistry at New Hanover High School in Wilmington, N.C. After graduating high school, he attended North Carolina State University, where he took his first computer course. It would be a pivotal moment for Goodnight, who later said, “a light went on, and I fell in love with making machines do things for other people.”

In 1968, he received a master's degree in statistics. He landed a position working for a company that built electronic equipment for the ground stations that communicated with the Apollo space capsules. At that time, the company had an annual turnover rate of about 50 percent, which helped shape Goodnight's views on management and corporate culture. After his stint working on the Apollo project, he returned to North Carolina State University to earn a Ph.D. in statistics and served as a faculty member from 1972-76. While there, Goodnight created a general purpose statistical analysis system (SAS) for analyzing agricultural data.

SAS Institute is now the largest privately owned software company in the world. Goodnight chose not to take the company public, and has often declined overtures from other companies to buy SAS. In 2012 the company was named one of the top 25 places to work in the world; in 2017, it ranked No. 3 on Forbes list of World's Best Workplaces.


EDUCATION: In 2008, Goodnight and his wife, Ann, founded the Goodnight Scholars Program at NCSU. The program "invests in students from middle-income families in North Carolina studying in the STEM and Education disciplines. This investment represents a commitment to our students’ personal, professional and academic development through scholarship funding, comprehensive programming and enrichment opportunities."

Goodnight also co-founded Cary Academy, a college prep school for grades 6 through 12 in Cary, North Carolina. Cary Academy is located near the SAS campus and is intended to be a model 6-12 school that places a strong emphasis on the use of technology in all aspects of education, focusing on a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum, and smaller class sizes. Upon enrollment, students are issued tablet computers.

Through SAS, Goodnight has also supported K-12 and higher education with products and services that are designed to improve teaching, learning, and administration by providing administrators with a complete picture of such areas as enrollment, attendance, assessments, and transportation. Education has been the main focus on SAS corporate philanthropy for 25 years, with support going to a range of organizations and efforts in this area. In a recent year, the company made nearly $2 million in cash contributions and $45 million in-kind contributions. It also matched employee charitable contributions to the tune of $48 million.

Additionally, Goodnight has made personal gifts to several other educational institutions, including $5 million to the William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, and $3 million to his alma mater, North Carolina State University, to help establish a graduate business degree program for analytics. He has also donated personal computers to a number of North Carolina high schools.

ARTS & CULTURE: Goodnight is an active art collector and plans to donate his fairly substantial art collection to the North Carolina Museum of Art. He has already donated his rock collection to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. He also provides financial support to the Carolina Ballet.

DISASTER RELIEF: SAS was very involved in assisting Nepal in the aftermath of the earthquake in early 2015. The company was able to work with the International Organization for Migration to "analyze shelter data to better allocate resources",  based on other relief work they had done in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan.