KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—The Haslam family opened its first truck stop in 1981, and over the years, their business morphed into the 780-store chain of Pilot Flying J Travel Centers based in Knoxville. For generations, the company has been run by members of the family, but now, Jimmy Haslam III, CEO, has announced that he will step aside on Jan. 1, 2021, and turn his job over to Shameek Konar, who currently serves as Pilot’s chief strategy officer, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Haslam, who also owns the Cleveland Browns National Football League franchise, will become chairman of Pilot’s board, while his father, company founder James Haslam II, will become chairman emeritus. The transition comes as the business faces pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic and technology shifts that could reduce the demand for fossil fuels.
The Haslam family owns 50.1% of Pilot Corp., one of the largest privately held businesses in the United States. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway took a 38.6% stake in the company in 2017.
Konar joined the company in 2017 and helped build Pilot’s energy division, which supplies about 11 billion gallons of fuel a year, including diesel and biodiesel. The segment has a fleet of more than 1,500 truck tankers and operates an oil-field services business.
Like many fuel dealers and c-store operators, Pilot took a hit from the coronavirus pandemic as lockdowns kept millions of consumers at home. The company serves the long-haul trucking business. “The trucking business is off in the single digits,” Haslam said. “Gasoline traffic’s probably off 20%.”
The demand for diesel typically makes up about 80% of Pilot’s total fuel sales and “seems to have stabilized,” Konar said. The company is watching for any impact from additional business shutdowns as COVID-19 cases in the U.S. rise.
The company also faces changes in transportation that could disrupt a major revenue source as vehicle manufacturers develop more electric and alternative-fuel vehicles, as well as autonomous-vehicle technology aimed at long-haul trucking operations.
However, those shifts won’t happen overnight, and “as long as there’s road transportation and goods and services are delivered through that,” Konar said, Pilot’s network “will provide whatever services and fuel is required by the future of the transportation sector.”