A good night for numbers

So what does a billionaire read?

Software heavyweight Jim Goodnight is re-reading “Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning,” by Thomas Davenport and Jeanne Harris. The idea is that companies must do a much better job analyzing all the data they amass about customers.

SAS Institute creates sophisticated software that does just that, and Goodnight is co-founder and CEO of the Cary company.

“It really captures something that is near and dear to me: the emergence of business analytics,” he said.

He's also reading “The Breakthrough Company: How Everyday Companies Become Extraordinary Performers,” by Keith McFarland. SAS is one of the companies featured. Goodnight enjoys seeing how the others, all very different, “share some of the same business values and customer focus.”

Goodnight, the wealthiest Carolinian on Forbes' 2008 list of billionaires, typically enjoys reading about innovation and novel ways for companies to address challenges. He'll tuck in some history because he enjoys learning “from examining great leadership.” For summer reading, he'll pick up a Tom Clancy thriller.

But, he says, “I've always been a numbers guy, with a doctorate in statistics, so I lean toward facts and nonfiction.”

Goodnight, 65, goes online for some news, but he also likes to read papers, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. To know what's going on, he also says it's crucial to “get out from behind my desk” and talk with employees.

Early on, Goodnight worked in the family hardware store in Wilmington. His father stressed the need to listen to customers.

“That's something that's stayed with me all these years,” he said.

Stella M. Hopkins