Whitney Haslam Johnson, Pilot Flying J
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