Pilot Company announces new CEO

Never one to shy away from change and growth in its 62-year history, the Pilot Company will begin 2021 with a new leader at the helm.

CEO Jimmy Haslam announced that he will transition to chairman of the board on Jan. 1.

Chief Strategy Officer Shameek Konar will become the fourth CEO of Pilot, ranked No. 10 on Forbes' list of largest private American companies.

Pilot supplies more than 11 billion gallons of fuel annually and operates 950 retail and fuel locations in North America.

The Haslam family will continue to have a strong presence on the board.

The transition will take place over the next six months. Konar plans to lead with the same growth mindset that's long defined the company.

"As markets change, and as opportunities change, we have to change, right? If you don't innovate, you die," Konar told Knox News in an interview Monday. "Pilot's had a long history of innovating as markets changed and looking for the opportunity."

Strong family presence on board

It's the right time for a change, Haslam said. Both he and President Ken Parent, who will transition to a senior advisor role in January, are in their 60s and have "a lot of miles on us."

Founder Jim Haslam will transition from chairman to chairman emeritus and both he and Jimmy Haslam will remain active in the company and on the board. Former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has rejoined the board after a 20-year hiatus, and Whitney Haslam Johnson will continue as Chief Experience Officer and a board member.

The rest of Pilot's leadership team will remain in place.

A Pilot employee since 2017, Konar, 50, brings more than 20 years of experience in the energy and commodity market, specializing in acquisition and operations of energy assets.

"Shameek possesses, I think, everything we look for or anybody would look for in a leader," Jimmy Haslam told Knox News. "He's very smart, great work ethic, a very humble man, and I think understands people very well. When you take those four skills and marry it up with somebody who has great commercial acumen, we think we have an outstanding future CEO."

After the transition, Jimmy Haslam said he expects to spend one day a week in the office and another in the field visiting stores or evaluating real estate.

"My role will be to help Shameek in any way possible during this transition," Jimmy Haslam said. "I've had the privilege of working here for 44 years, so over that time you acquire, hopefully, a little institutional knowledge, and we'll do everything we can to share that with Shameek. We're really excited."

Throughout the decades, Pilot has been committed to philanthropic giving within the East Tennessee community. That won't change, Jimmy Haslam said. "I think our family and our company will remain integrally involved in Knoxville and East Tennessee."

Company will continue to seek growth

Over the years, the company has expanded into convenience stores, small truck stops, then larger travel plazas and truck repair. Three years ago it hired Konar to launch PFJ Energy.

The division supplies 900,000 barrels of fuel daily and provides logistics, wholesale marketing and oil field trucking services. Brands like BunkerHill, Tartan Oil, Saratoga, Pro Petroleum, and Pilot Water Solutions fall under the PFJ Energy umbrella.

While launching PFJ Energy, Konar got a feel for the company culture and leadership's enthusiasm to jump on new opportunities.

"These (Fortune 500) companies generally come with a lot of bureaucracy, and I think Pilot's strength is the ability to make decisions quickly and be nimble and respond to the market," Konar said.

That approach will continue, Konar and Haslam agree, whether it's growing Pilot's truck stop footprint, expanding into adjacent markets such as logistics or exploring new alternative fuels.

Short-term and long-term goals

Starting now, Konar will take on management of Pilot's technology, human resources, finance and legal departments. Until the January transition, Parent will continue to oversee store operations and development. Jimmy Haslam will continue to manage the real estate team.

Jimmy Haslam is the owner of the Cleveland Browns and part of the ownership group for the Columbus Crew, the MLS team.

Konar said he is focused on getting to know the team better and learning the retail and food side of the business.

He'll also be overseeing strategies around COVID-19, determining how to return the corporate team to the office safely. Pilot put the brakes on plans to return most employees to the office this summer, Konar said, as cases around the country have increased. Likely, when most office employees do return, it will be a mix of home and in-office work, he said.

"Short-term strategy, we'll be working through the current global environment for fuel and for demand for fuel and merchandise," Konar said. "Then the longer term strategy is really thinking about alternative fuels; what will the transportation sector look like five years from now, 10 years from now?

"And how do we take our network and make sure we're positioned in the best place possible as the markets change, to be there when the markets change?"

Prior to joining Pilot, Konar was chief investment officer and an executive committee member at Castleton Commodities International and Mercuria Energy Trading in Houston. He also led expansion into natural gas and crude oil as managing director and global co-head of commodities and principal investments at Goldman Sachs.

He has a degree in economics and mathematics from St. Stephens College in India and a Ph.D. in economics and finance from Vanderbilt University. Konar is from New Delhi, India, and moved to the United States in 1991 to attend Vanderbilt.

Based in Houston for now, Konar and his wife are building a house in Knoxville and plan to move next summer. They have two sons, ages 14 and 18.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Brenna McDermott

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org


Published July 23, 2020