Two San Antonio companies ranked high last week when People magazine released its first-ever list of the country’s “Top 50 Companies That Care.” Pipeline operator NuStar Energy came in at No. 10 – because of man’s best friend.

Compiled by People and the consulting firm Great Place to Work, the rankings are based on surveys from individuals employed at nearly 1,000 U.S. companies. According to the magazine, they were selected as much for their business success as for the respect, compassion, and concern they demonstrate in their communities, and for their employees and the environment.

In addition to the Valero Energy spinoff, the list included San Antonio-based USAA, the financial services company to the military, at No. 34.

The survey took into account the organization’s benefit plans, financial donations, and volunteerism, as well as the employees’ personal stories about the difference their workplaces have made in their lives and in their communities.

One such story People magazine reported is that of Chris Butler. Four years ago, as the executive director of NuStar’s corporate health, safety, and environmental excitedly prepared for a relocation to the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius for a job promotion, he realized Jo Boxer, the family’s beloved boxer, and Gretta, the yellow Labrador retriever, couldn’t make the flight.

“The airlines will only move certain breeds, and not any during heat of summer,” Butler said. “One of the dogs was 14, she was very old and would not have made the shipping environment. It was in mid-July that this all came to light so we were scrambling at that point.”

He started looking at charter flights.

“We were going to rent an SUV, drive to Florida,” he said. “I talked to some charter flight companies to take us from Miami to the island. It was going to cost about $25,000 to $30,000.”

When NuStar President and CEO Brad Barron learned of the plan, he picked up the phone and called Butler. Two weeks later, Butler, his wife, two kids, and the dogs together boarded the NuStar company jet for the five-hour flight to the island where they would live and work for the next two years.

“There are lots of people we’ve helped,” Barron said, noting the Butler case is just one of many such stories. “We’ve helped people get their citizenship and get through health crises. After that big hail storm, we had dozens of employees whose cars were destroyed. We used our Safe Fund to give them a grant to help employees with their deductibles. We once helped a young man whose apartment caught on fire, and we gave him emergency money to help him get along.”

Barron also pointed out that NuStar provides generous employee benefits, spending 38 cents for every dollar of salary on employee benefits such as health insurance and pension plans. Perks include a free gym membership and paid time off for volunteering. The company also has a no-layoff policy.

“Like all energy companies, 2016 was one of the most challenging years in the industry in history,” Barron said. “We went from $117 to $27 a barrel last year, and that affects us and our earnings.

“But in difficult times, it’s important to keep people motivated and pulling in the same direction. Things have stabilized now, with crude [oil] in the $50s, so the outlook is better, but it’s still a volatile business.”

Also recently listed at No. 37 on the Fortune magazine Best Places to Work list, NuStar employs 1,650 people around the world and about 500 in San Antonio.  Employees donated 95,000 hours in community service last year and achieved 100% participation in United Way giving.  In the last 10 years, NuStar has raised $31 million for Haven for Hope, the homeless shelter established by NuStar Chairman and philanthropist Bill Greehey.

Butler and his family were featured in a recent issue of People and appear in photos shot at the NuStar hangar as well as in snapshots family members took mid-flight that summer of 2013.

“You want to enjoy the work you do, and I do,” Butler said. “We all work for a reason – for our families. And to see this come out of the blue without solicitation, [that] the president and CEO of the company [was] that concerned about my family and my dogs because he knew how important that would be to the stability of my family – it made me proud to work for NuStar, and made the transition very easy.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.