When I applied for a job at SAS over 15 years ago, I didn't even know what the company did. [Insert dummy joke here.] Most of what I knew about the company came from colleagues at my former workplace who, perhaps in an effort to make themselves feel better, described SAS as a place that offered cushy benefits but really boring jobs that you would be stuck doing forever.
SAS has been on the Fortune Magazine "best workplace" list since the list began, debuting at number 3 and reaching as high as number 2. I had the good fortune of working closely with Dr. Goodnight (in proximity, at least) shortly before the list came out again around 2001. CNN had sent a team out to do a piece about SAS, and Dr. Goodnight speculated that maybe we were going to take the number 1 spot. When SAS was listed as number 3, I almost felt like I should offer condolences to the big guy.
(Side notes: the CNN piece highlighted SAS' "free massages" for employees. In fact, while you can get a massage here, it's not free. It's reasonably priced though, and convenient! Also, I think it was a requirement that every television news story that features SAS' workplace include a clip of Eddie filling the M&M containers in the break room.)
I think that SAS' staying power on the list says much more than the actual rank. There is no question that SAS has set a great example for other companies to follow, and as a result the field has become more crowded. Yet thanks to SAS' financial success, we've enjoyed a consistent repeat appearance on the list. After all, you have to stay in business and have a place to work in order to be a great workplace.
SAS has a reputation for caring about its employees, but the truth is, a company cannot care. People can care, and the people who make decisions at SAS do care: about their customers, their employees, and their communities.