Pilot Flying J's Giving Strategy Is Embedded in Company's Culture
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — When Korean War veteran Jim Haslam founded Pilot Flying J more than 60 years ago, he instilled a spirit of service and giving back in the company's culture. That value is still as evident today as it was six decades ago: As the company grows, so does its contributions to the communities where it operates.
"You want to have a company culture where you care for people. To have that kind of company, you have to take care of your two constituencies: your team members and your guests. But then, you also need to take of the needs of the communities," said Haslam, who currently serves as chairman of Pilot Flying J. "Giving will always play an important role at Pilot and, as we get bigger, so do the donations we make."
Haslam recalls one story in particular that affected him profoundly. When he first founded Pilot Flying J, he was approached by a gentleman who was active in the Knoxville community and asked him to work for Community Chest (what is now United Way), but Haslam declined because he had small children to consider and had just started the business.
"The man replied, 'Well, son, you have to pay the rent. I think all businesses have to pay the rent, and paying the rent is giving back to the community," Haslam recounted to Convenience Store News.
As part of "paying its rent," Pilot Flying J recently announced its most significant corporate contribution ever: $2 million to be spread across a total of 20 nonprofit organizations.
In honor of the travel center operator’s 60th anniversary this past November, the 20 nonprofit organizations will receive allocations of the contribution, which is focused on two pillars:
- Military heroes and their families. Funds will support veterans and their families by providing cost-free housing to those caring for injured loved ones and by connecting them with opportunities to drive their future success through causes such as Hire Heroes USA, Bunker Labs, Fisher House and Folds of Honor.
- Communities nationwide. Organizations including Boys and Girls Club of America, Feeding America, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Trucker Buddy International will be supported by funding programs that focus on health and wellness, access to food and academic success in communities across the country.
"We are grateful to the millions of guests and thousands of team members who have fueled our business for 60 years. To celebrate this great achievement, we wanted to say thank you in a meaningful way that honors our history and will make a positive difference in the communities we serve," Haslam said at the time of the announcement.
A Company With Heart
Another cause that plays a significant role in Pilot Flying J's corporate giving strategy is the American Heart Association (AHA) and its "Life is Why We Give" campaign. In honor of American Heart Month in February, Pilot Flying J kicked off the second-annual campaign across its network of travel centers, setting a goal to raise $1 million throughout the month.
The campaign exceeded that mark, raising a total of $1,068,243 and surpassing the $981,000 raised in 2018. This donation placed Pilot Flying J third among the top national fundraisers for the AHA campaign.
During the month of February, Pilot Flying J's fundraising initiatives included:
- Paper heart icons: $1, $3 and $5 red hearts were available for purchase, with donations going directly to AHA.
- Purchase roundup: Guests could round up their purchase — excluding fuel and fuel additives, and purchases made on fleet cards or direct bill programs — to the nearest whole dollar. Pilot Flying J donated the full amount of each roundup to AHA.
- Online donations: A donation link was available on the Pilot Flying J website to provide guests another convenient way to donate.
When asked why this particular campaign is so important to Pilot Flying J, Haslam explained that "health and wellness is important to everyone. We want our team members and guests to be healthy, and health starts with the heart."
Haslam was recently celebrated as one of 25 individuals named by the NRF Foundation as "People Shaping Retail's Future." He was honored in the "Givers" category. The travel center chain founder commented that it's just an honor to give and that he is humbled by the recognition.
"The award really goes to Pilot Flying J and its team members. These are the people who make the honor possible. It's not about me, it's about them," Haslam expressed.
"We're thankful for everyone who makes our philanthropy possible and are honored to give to all these causes. It's a three-pronged approach: if we take care of our team members, they take care of our guests, then the company can in turn do good for the community with things that are important," he added.
Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J has more than 750 retail locations across 44 states.