Collecting Earthly Treasures

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He has a Ph.D. in statistics, calls himself a “science and math” person and is usually taciturn and private. Asked about his minerals collection, however, SAS CEO Jim Goodnight becomes passionate. Minerals, he says, are the “first art—art that can’t be replicated by man.”

Goodnight shows his more than 400 specimens in his office and elsewhere in his business analytics software company’s headquarters in Cary, North Carolina. Each piece is displayed on a
Plexiglas pedestal, with its name and provenance etched into its base, as in a museum.

The collection’s minerals come from 40 countries, from Afghanistan to Zaire. “You have to be amazed at all the colors and formations out there,” Goodnight says. He owns a pure white quartz piece from India that looks like icy snowballs; copper-touched malachite from the Republic of Congo, intensely green; glowing purple fluorite from Tennessee; arrowheads from the site of SAS’s headquarters that date back to the Archaic Period, c. 8000 B.C. to c. 1000 B.C.; and a recent acquisition, crystallized gold from Kalgoorlie, West Australia, rare because unlike most gold it hasn’t been smoothed by water.

Goodnight’s passion dates back to his childhood. As a boy living at the edge of town in Greensboro, he would venture out looking for arrowheads and quartz crystals. These days he buys some 10 or 12 minerals specimens a year. His collection includes a meteorite, a cross-section of a fossilized dinosaur egg from the Gobi Desert and a 70-million-year-old fossilized nautilus shell from Oklahoma.

Among his favorite pieces is a large chunk of colored quartz from Brazil known as the “merchant’s stone” because it’s associated with business success, generosity and sharing. He is an active philanthropist and an advocate for education.

Goodnight founded his company in 1976, together with other faculty members at North Carolina State University. Goodnight, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $7.8 billion, urges businesses to care better for their “creative capital,” employees whose ideas generate valuable products and services. In an industry where yearly turnover of 20 percent is norm, his company has only 4 percent.

He is also known as a patron of visual arts. Together with his wife and partners he founded an independent prep school, Cary Academy. He also owns Cary’s Prestonwood Country Club and the Umstead Hotel and Spa at the edge of SAS’s campus.

This article was featured in the September/October 2015 issue of Chief Executive magazine on page 62. To subscribe to Chief Executive magazine, click here

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George Nicholas
George Nicholas is a New York-based business writer and communications consultant. Contact him at georgenicholas@mindspring.com.

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