by Sam Allard
When it comes to business, Jimmy Haslam is hands-on and intense. He's a truck-stop savant. Mention a city, anywhere on the map, and he can rattle off where the Pilot Flying Js are. The Council Bluffs, Iowa, location? It has an Arby's and is near a casino, Haslam would say. He's traveled these roads for decades. Pilot and the Browns are his babies, and like any parent, he knows his children.
Every week, Haslam flies to a region, rents a car and drives around to various Pilot travel centers. He checks the books, the gas pumps and even the restrooms to make sure they're clean. He talks to the woman at the register. He loves interacting with his employees.
It raises an obvious question — how can Haslam tell you if the paper towels are low at a truck stop in Tennessee, but he didn't know that some of his highest-level employees allegedly were shorting customers millions of dollars?
Dun dun dun!
Merrill's profile, a sweeping saga of the Haslams and the building of their empire, actually includes very little in the way of new reporting. She asks a great question there, but doesn't know enough to answer it. (No one does).
Merrill unfortunately wasn't able to speak to Jimmy himself — he's trying to keep a low profile — and got only ringing character endorsements from "Big Jim" Haslam, Jimmy's father, and former fraternity brothers who firmly believe that Haslam would never knowingly engage in unethical or illegal behavior.
In one other choice tidbit, Merrill reveals that "Big Jim" (and Jimmy, based on press conference footage and the above photo) prefer pop to coffee. When he showed up for his interview, Big Jim was chugging Diet Coke from a Pilot Flying J cup.
One of the more telling moments in Merrill's piece comes when a Knoxville attorney characterizes the family mentality:
"They are not used to anybody ever questioning them on any level at any time. That's probably part of their problem. Every business, every organization, every family, every relationship needs somebody to tell you no. No one ever questioned anything they did. Ever."
In other Browns' legal snafus, executive Jon Sandusky — son of Penn State child abuser Jerry — was arrested in Frago last night with a DUI.
But we're 3-2, so there's that.