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1. Live Oak Bank
Pictured: Live Oak supports Paws4People — an organization that trains assistance dogs for children, veterans and civilians living with disabilities — and is an official training venue for the puppies.

Location: Wilmington, N.C.
Assets: $1.9 billion
Employees: 406
Chairman and CEO: James "Chip" Mahan

No one wants to be summoned unexpectedly to the boss' office.

And the fact that it was Halloween probably spooked loan officer Kate Groat all the more when she received a call from one of Live Oak Bank's founders asking for an impromptu meeting.

But there was no trouble. Instead Groat was being recruited to serve as the bank's first ever director of philanthropy, a point person for the numerous donation requests the bank receives throughout the year.

That a $2 billion-asset niche bank would need to have a full-time philanthropy executive, and that its leaders knew their employees well enough to tap a lender with no experience in nonprofits for the job, goes a long way toward explaining how Live Oak has topped the list of the best places to work for four years running. Although the bank has been applauded for novel benefits including a dog park and fully paid employee health insurance, Groat said the culture — from the top down — is the perk that has kept her at Live Oak.

"I have never worked at a place with such a commitment to its people and to doing what's right," Groat said. "The team spirit here is amazing."

In her new role, Groat is charged with formalizing the bank's charitable work and centralizing the process of nonprofits seeking both money and volunteers. Live Oak requires its dollars to follow its employees — meaning it will only give to organizations where employees volunteer. Groat has expanded the list by posting new volunteer opportunities in her weekly missive to employees.

So far this year Live Oak has made grants to 24 organizations and sponsored 16 galas, golf tournaments and other events helping organizations across its native Cape Fear region. That's on top of employee volunteer hours and service on nonprofit boards, part of a broader push by the bank to be a catalyst for making the area a better place to live and work.

"It is in the DNA of the bank to be an active part of our community and to give back to the community," Groat said. "It's part of who we are."