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No. 1: Live Oak Bank
Location: Wilmington, N.C.
Assets: $502 million
No. of employees: 147
Chairman and CEO: James "Chip" Mahan 3rd
Pictured: Live Oak employees gather to celebrate the Grand Opening of their new headquarters in Wilmington, NC.

A meeting would have sufficed for Anne Mino, who just wanted an opportunity to discuss her heavy workload.

But her manager, Micah Davis, was one step ahead of her. Davis had already been asking senior leaders about hiring someone to help out Mino, who is an event marketing manager for Live Oak Bank in Wilmington, N.C.

Three weeks later, the new employee was on board, giving Mino yet another reason to celebrate the job she started in December.

"This is truly the best opportunity I have ever had in my entire life," says Mino, who worked as an interior designer and for an event production company before being hired by Live Oak. "I have never worked for a company that I am so excited about."

Live Oak does small-business lending nationwide, with a focus on niche industries, including veterinary practices, pharmacies, funeral homes and independent financial advisory firms. It does not operate any retail branches. But it does operate two corporate jets, which are available to employees for business travel.

"Everybody would say that's the stupidest damn thing in the world," says James "Chip" Mahan 3rd, Live Oak's chairman and CEO.

But Mahan believes that spending above the industry average on employees brings above-average results. Perks abound on the company's campus, which features a gym, a dog park and catered lunches every Friday.

This year, the bank, which opened in 2008, awarded stock options to all employees after it decided not to go public, instead opting to accept a passive private equity investment.

"I operate from the premise that to create something special, you really just have to make sure that your people understand that every single one of them is special," Mahan says.

It didn't take long for the feeling to sink in with Mino. She jumped at the chance to work at Live Oak after meeting Davis, the bank's marketing director, at a children's Halloween party in fall 2013. Their children were attending the same school.

After Mino started, she was impressed with how the people at Live Oak kept their word. For example, managers told her the gym was open for use any time. But Mino wondered if they really meant it, especially if she left her desk in the middle of the workday.

They did mean it and, when she went to the gym, she was pleasantly surprised to find senior executives sweating alongside her.

"It's not one of those, 'Do it when you can fit it in,' or 'Do it at 6 a.m. when you're not on company time,'" she says. "It's, 'we really want you to do this.'"

More recently, Mino needed ergonomic adjustments at her desk to ease tendinitis she had developed from repetitive clicking on a computer mouse.

Within two days, a senior manager and a trainer from the gym had evaluated her situation and made several changes, including the installation of cutting-edge software that allows her to talk to her computer instead of punching on the keyboard.

"Be careful what you wish for around here, because you're going to get it all," Mino says.



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