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Co-founder of SAS Institute to receive honorary NIU doctorate

May 5, 2014
John Sall

John Sall

NIU will confer an honorary doctoral degree this spring to John Sall, executive vice president of the SAS Institute and head of its JMP business division.

Sall will receive his honorary doctorate during the Graduate School commencement ceremony, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 9, in the NIU Convocation Center.

A native of Rockford who earned his master’s degree in economics from NIU in 1973, Sall’s JMP software transforms statistics into interactive and highly visual graphs that create “a-ha” moments for anyone curious to learn what their data knows.

“We are very pleased that John Sall was chosen for an honorary doctorate. He is an excellent choice for this honor.” said Virginia Wilcox-Gök, chair of the NIU Department of Economics.

“Under his influence, SAS methods have become increasingly sophisticated over the years. This enables better and better types of data management and analysis, so that the software is widely used by economists and business analysts around the world. Our students have traditionally found a very strong employment market because their SAS skills,” Wilcox-Gök added.

“On a personal level, one member of the economics faculty commented to me that, ‘John Sall helped me with my homework.’ Faced with a difficult econometric estimation problem, this professor called the SAS Institute and was personally assisted by co-founder John Sall!”

Sall, who holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Beloit College, joined Jim Goodnight and two others in 1976 to establish SAS, a leader in business analytics software and the largest independent vendor in the business intelligence market.

He designed, developed and documented many of the earliest analytical procedures for Base SAS software.

SAS software logoIn the late 1980s, Sall noticed a niche that SAS software was not filling: Researchers and engineers, whose jobs didn’t revolve solely around statistical analysis, needed an easy-to-use and affordable stats program.

“John’s Macintosh Project” – or JMP – was launched in 1989 to dynamically link statistical analysis with the graphical capabilities of Macintosh computers. It now runs on Windows and Macintosh, and Sall remains its lead architect.

According to JMP’s Facebook page, the software is perfect for “anyone who wants to explore data and communicate discoveries to others” and “anyone who understands the value of experimentation and modeling to create better products and processes.”

Its 250,000 users, including employees of Astra Zeneca, the Chicago Botanic Gardens, the Federal Aviation Administration, General Mills, Lockheed Martin, Lufthansa, McDonald’s, the U.S. Marine Corps and Whirlpool, routinely “uncover answers that ordinary spreadsheets with limited analytical horsepower cannot provide.”

“Every university would love to count John Sall among its alums, and NIU is proud and fortunate to have that distinction,” NIU President Doug Baker said.

“Mr. Sall’s body of work since he graduated in 1973 is truly impressive. Not only did he build one of the most effective statistical analysis packages in the world, he also built one of the best organizations for which to work,” Baker added.

“John is a wonderful role model for our new graduates. He took his love of learning, created amazing intellectual property and then built a very successful global business. He shows us that we should: Go, dream big, work hard, have fun and succeed.”

JMP software logoSAS might offer a good environment for that kind of NIU student career success; the company ranked No. 2 on the 2013 list of World’s Best Multinational Workplaces as selected by Great Place to Work®. It first made the list in 1993.

Sall, recipient of the NIU Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2008 and a Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2010, is also a philanthropist.

According to Inside Philanthropy, Sall:

  • is a longtime supporter of the Nature Conservancy and served on its board of governors from 2002 to 2011;
  • is a major donor to the Pan American Health Organization, which mobilizes partnerships to improve health and quality of life in the Americas; and
  • contributed millions of dollars to CARE USA, an organization that provides disaster relief and fights poverty throughout the world.

In 1997, Sall and his wife, Ginger, contributed to the founding of Cary Academy, an independent college preparatory school for students in grades six through 12. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of North Carolina State University, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2003.

Ginger Sall

Ginger Sall

Ginger Sall, who will accompany her husband to the May 9 ceremony, is an accomplished computer scientist who is well-recognized for her leadership of non-profit organizations.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Rice University and studied biostatistics at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health. She has worked as a systems programmer, software developer, technical consultant and statistical software trainer.

Meanwhile, the co-founder and director of the Sall Family Foundation is passionate about health and nutrition for mothers and children, as well as conservation and the environment. She has helped mothers breastfeed their babies as a 35-year member of La Leche League International, serving as board chair from 2000 to 2001.

She also serves on the World Wildlife Fund-U.S. Board of Directors and was the first winner of the Zenith Medal for Service, presented by the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences at North Carolina State University.

In receiving an honorary degree from NIU, John Sall joins distinguished company.

The list includes former U.S. Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert; Argonne National Laboratory Director Eric D. Isaacs and former Argonne directors Robert Rosner and Hermann Grunder; author and physician Abraham Verghese; historian Arthur Schlesinger; U.S. Sen. Paul Simon; poet Gwendolyn Brooks; astronomer Carl Sagan; Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Leland A. Strom, former chairman of the board and CEO of the Farm Credit Administration; Layli Miller-Muro, founder and executive director of the Tahirih Justice Center; and Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand.