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Volume 23 No. 17
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Whitney Haslam Johnson, Pilot Flying J

Photo: Steven Bridges
Photo: Steven Bridges
Photo: Steven Bridges

Whitney Haslam Johnson

Chief Experience Officer, Pilot Flying J
Born: Knoxville, Tenn.
Education: B.S., finance, University of Georgia

Pilot Flying J, the country’s largest chain of travel stores and truck stops, had barely dipped its toe in the sports marketing waters two years ago. Whitney Haslam Johnson changed all that.

She launched Pilot’s most extensive rebrand and facilities overhaul since the first store opened in 1958.

It was a gutsy move, considering Pilot’s robust market share with more than 750 travel centers nationwide. She saw an opportunity to extend the brand.

The first major move was to title sponsor the Tennessee-Virginia Tech season opener in 2016 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The first-of-its-kind college football game was played on a field constructed in the middle of the racetrack. A record crowd of 156,990 attended.

Since then, Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot has doubled down with an SEC corporate sponsorship to become the conference’s official travel center.

Haslam Johnson, the daughter of Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam, has never taken her position in the family business for granted. She has worked across many of Pilot’s lines of business to acquire a 360-degree view of the firm.

“Coming out of college, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to work for a truck stop,” Johnson said. “But I pretty quickly learned that the job really is more about people and engaging with those people, whether it’s at one of our travel centers or at a football game.”

— Michael Smith

Getting to know...

Misperception of working in sports: As most people in sports communicate, it is not always glamorous. … The days are long and the season never truly ends.
Proudest professional achievement: The Battle at Bristol football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway. That game was a crossroad of passion points for Pilot Flying J guests — we brought together college football, NASCAR and country music all into one weekend. 
Woman in sports business I’d like to meet: Condoleezza Rice. I very much admire the way she carries herself and what she has accomplished.
Role of sports in social issues: Sports bring people together. It should be a platform for positivity — playing or cheering for your hometown, healthy competition against a rival, setting a good example for kids and certainly at the professional level, athletes can have a tremendous social impact in our communities.