In this blog post I’m going to explore the very unusual working conditions at SAS Software (FYI-their cafeteria has octopus shaped hot dogs for kids-enough said)
Inside Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work, on the second place lies SAS Software based in Cary, North Carolina. Odds are you haven’t heard about this company if statistics is not your hobby (I know I haven’t until my Organizational Theory class). This company however, provides high-grade statistical software to both government agencies and private enterprises. In fact, most of Fortune 500 companies use SAS software in one shape or form. By using SAS, companies optimize their retail prices, compile results from clinical trials, track usage patterns in casinos, get insight from social media and marketing , optimize communications, track fraud, model risk, do scenario analysis,
make fine pancakes.
Commercially, the company has been unusually successful. SAS was started as a project in North Carolina State University’s agricultural department in order to analyze how different factors would affect yields. Gradually, educational and commercial versions of the software were released. The company had more than ten percent growth per year, reaching $1.1 billion in 2000. They also spend a large amount of their revenues on Research and Development.
I’m sure Milton Friedman would argue that SAS is great because it’s being run in concordance to shareholder interests and is successful in maximizing value.
Only that…he’d be wrong. SAS is the largest privately held software company in the world. And more famous than their profits and growth is their unique work conditions.
It can be argued that the campus feel found at Google and more recently Apple was actually inspired by SAS (they did it first!) Employees at SAS have a series of amenities that are simply unheard of at most companies. A subsidized cafeteria, gourmet cafes, fresh fruit, free snack (22.5 tons of M&M’s per year consumed at SAS!) and drink stations at every floor, a health clinic, a farmers market truck, state of the art recreation and fitness center with personal trainers, Olympic-size pool AND a private office for every employee are some of the benefits that you receive at SAS. The salary that employees receive at SAS is still comparable to other software companies, if only slightly lower to cover costs for the excellent work conditions.
Are the great physical work conditions the only thing keeping people at SAS? No. The culture at SAS is extremely egalitarian and compassionate. The organizational structure is extremely flat ( for example, the Executive Vice President knows much about the code being written), schedules are extremely flexible, work is managed by groups that agree on deadlines and there is an incredible focus on family and work-life balance. A subsidized daycare center is present in the campus, alongside family friendly dining options and there is even a work-life balance division that focuses on making sure employees don’t burn out.
This translates into incredibly low rates of turnover for the company. Only 4% of employees leave every year, compared to the 20% industry average. During the recession, one of the first actions the CEO did was to announce that there would be no layoffs in order to maintain morale at the company.
Reading the articles that glorify SAS made me rather skeptical. I wanted to believe this, this, this, this and this. After searching Google and Google News, there was simply no article that I could find that brought significant criticism to SAS. What I really liked was that the company’s spokespeople were explaining that SAS isn’t trying to be philanthropic, it is simply offering incentives to employees to be productive, reduce replacement costs and create a positive environment. Every benefit had to be in accord with SAS’s culture, serve a large number of employees and have a perceived value higher than its cost.
Glassdoor was my last stop in my search- I wanted to find that one disgruntled employee that left a bad review for the company.
A couple of issues were readily apparent at SAS. Many reviews criticized the lack of opportunity for growth (if people don’t leave…how do positions become available?), very politics-oriented management styles, preferences based on seniority and not meritocracy and even the lack of diversity in hiring. It seems to me that for some people, the very flat structure and focus on retention made SAS a nice if rather boring place to work. Many were criticizing the lack of focus on sales and lack of innovation.
It is always possible to find former disgruntled employees. They might have not been compatible with the corporate culture or perhaps they had a mid-level manager that was simply inadequate. Some of the issues such as lack of upwards mobility or lack of diversity are however serious structural issues that the company needs to deal with. I’ve had the distinct feeling however that even though SAS certainly has room to improve, it has achieved a balance of being very successful financially and also offering a positive environment to their customers, employees and surrounding community.
….Maybe some places are indeed simply better to work for than others.
Pictures were found on The Huffington Post.