University of Tennessee men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes had a dream that Jim Haslam, founder of Pilot Company and staunch University of Tennessee supporter, wrote a book.
Turns out, his dream came true.
“‘Mr. Haslam, you have a story that just has to be told!’ Then I woke up,” Barnes writes about his dream in a section of Haslam’s new book, “Co-Piloting: Luck, Leadership and Learning That It’s All About Others.”
The book, available now, includes tributes from family and friends, including Barnes, Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Tennessee Vols legend Peyton Manning.
“Let’s be clear; When it comes to philanthropy, as well as love for and dedication to the University of Tennessee, Jim Haslam is our greatest letterman,” Fulmer writes.
“Co-Piloting” details Haslam’s personal and professional life and his maxims for success. Pilot is ranked No. 10 on Forbes’ list of largest private American companies.
“If you’re gonna achieve even a modicum of success, you have to be lucky and you have to work hard and you have to have good people around you,” Haslam said told Knox News in an interview about the book. “And so we tried to make those the themes.”
Written under ‘duress’
Jim Haslam’s son, former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, writes in the foreword that the book “has been written against the will of its author.”
After facing “duress” from his family, Haslam, 89, spent the first half of 2020 writing “Co-Piloting” with John Driver, a University of Tennessee alumnus and prolific author and co-author.
The two crafted an outline, then worked together to write a chapter at a time, with careful edits from Jim’s wife, Natalie Haslam.
In “Co-Piloting,” Haslam details how lucky situations in his personal life and for Pilot — he calls them “breaks” — became transformational moments.
“You’re gonna get opportunities in life, and you want to make sure you take advantage of the opportunity,” Haslam said.
Those “breaks” include moving from Pennsylvania to Florida as a senior in high school, which led him to attend the University of Tennessee and play football under General Robert R. Neyland, one of his greatest influences.
Jim Haslam:How the former Vols lineman came to play football for Al Davis
Haslam, who considered coaching high school football or selling TV ads at the start of his career after serving in the U.S. Army, got into the oil business instead.
He started Pilot in 1958 with one gas station in Gate City, Virginia.
Today, the massive Knoxville-based company has 950 retail and fuel locations in North America and supplies 11 billion gallons of fuel each year. Son Jimmy Haslam will transition out of the CEO role in January and become chairman of the board.
The book details the turning points and most challenging moments in Pilot’s history, like the acquisition of competitor Flying J during the Great Recession; entering the travel center business’ and “the biggest crisis of our company,” in which FBI agents raided headquarters in 2013 as part of an investigation into whether Pilot had defrauded trucking companies.
Haslam details the leadership team’s efforts to mitigate the damage internally, the subsequent class-action lawsuit and his takeaways from the experience.
“We found that there was a fear within the company of speaking out, which is completely unacceptable,” Haslam writes. “Everything in our culture must be built on integrity, honesty, and accountability.”
“I think what you have to do when you have adversity is you have to say, how do we build from that?” Haslam said.
The book also details the personal side of the business: the loss of Haslam’s late wife, Cynthia, who died in 1974, and handing the leadership reins to Jimmy and Bill Haslam.
“Co-Piloting” is dedicated to Pilot’s 28,000 employees and in memory of Denise Nibbe, Nettie Spencer and Joyce Whaley, the three Pilot employees who were killed in a Knox County stabbing in April.
“It was very traumatic experience for our company, our family, and I think our community,” Haslam said. “They were just three ladies that were working; Good, hard working women, and all of a sudden, boom, they’re gone. So we thought that was important.”
Enjoying a burger with Warren Buffett
Haslam details encounters with politicians, business people and athletes, like sharing a simple meal with billionaire Warren Buffett.
“There we were, sitting at a corner table in a little cafe with the second-richest man in the world — and we were about to eat cheeseburgers!” Haslam writes.
By 2023, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway will own 80% of Pilot while the Haslam family retains a 20% ownership stake.
In the tributes section, Manning writes about Haslam’s devotion to UT, which extends from financial support to Vols football fandom.
“You should know that watching a game with Mr. Haslam is not social time,” Manning writes. “He is seriously into what’s happening on the field, so it’s not a time for niceties.”
Haslam’s life maxims for success
The book details Haslam’s personal maxims, like humility and kindness, family, philanthropy, servant leadership and integrity.
He shares advice: Surround yourself with smart people who will challenge you to be better. And embrace change.
“I think what we hope the book does is it will inspire younger people to work hard, be optimistic and if they get a chance, get in business and help other people,” Haslam said.
“Co-Piloting” is available in Pilot stores in the South, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Indiebound. Tennessee’s play-by-play radio broadcaster Bob Kesling narrates the audio book.
Proceeds from the book, $27, will go to area nonprofits that encourage young people to get in business. More information is available at copilotingbook.com.
Email business reporter Brenna McDermott at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @_BrennaMcD.