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Women Of The C-Suite: “Trust in your team and make sure they know you are there to support them.” With Whitney Haslam Johnson

Trust in your team and make sure they know you are there to support them. Equally as important, work to spend time with them and get to know them. For large teams especially, it’s important that everyone hears your voice and knows you support them. As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I […]

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Trust in your team and make sure they know you are there to support them. Equally as important, work to spend time with them and get to know them. For large teams especially, it’s important that everyone hears your voice and knows you support them.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Whitney Haslam Johnson, chief experience officer at Pilot Flying J and a member of the company’s board of directors. She is responsible for elevating the guest and team member experience by working with multiple departments across the company to ensure ongoing refinement of Pilot Flying J’s brand image. From marketing and communications to modernizing facilities and focusing on new technologies and innovative programs, her focus is to improve guest experiences, ensuring that loyalty and guest satisfaction are the focus of every Pilot Flying J interaction.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Pilot Flying J was founded by my granddad 60 years ago. After college, my parents encouraged me to explore working at other companies to get different experiences and learn. That exposure taught me the importance of understanding every aspect of a business in order to truly make impactful decisions. When I started working at Pilot Flying J, it was a priority of mine to engage in the critical facets of our operations to gain a strong fundamental knowledge of the overall business. From working as a category manager over our grocery category to overseeing our brand, this experience helped shape my passion for creating a positive experience for our team members and guests.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In October 2017, we announced that Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway made a significant minority investment in Pilot Flying J. As a family-owned company, I was involved in the decision-making process alongside my dad Jimmy, CEO of Pilot Flying J, and my grandad and played a large role in our overall internal and external communications strategy. We were truly humbled and honored to have them approach us — as this investment underscores the strength of our company and the attractiveness of our industry and reflects the hard work and dedication of our team members over the last 60 years.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started my career, it seemed like every time things would start going well and I’d be getting comfortable in my role, the job would change. I now realize that’s a common part of a successful business in order to evolve, grow and innovate, and it’s healthy to change things up and take on responsibilities that push you out of your comfort zone.

It took me some time to learn this but my greatest lesson from this experience is to embrace change and lead change. Seek out ways to continue to evolve instead of waiting for it to come.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

From our beginnings as a single gas station in Gate City, Virginia in 1958 to today, 60 years later, Pilot Flying J has evolved with the industry at every turn, and we continue to innovate and grow to ensure we’re prepared for the future. We are passionate about making a better day for our guests on the road. This commitment to personalize service started with my grandad back when gas stations were full service. The attendants would write the guest’s name on a piece of tape that was placed on the gas cap. When the guests returned to fuel, our team would then be able to welcome them by name. Today, we serve more than 1.6 million guests a day, but our team members are committed to providing a welcoming, clean and seamless experience for our guests.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

In my role as chief experience officer, I enjoy spending time listening to our team members and guests, learning from them and helping improve their overall experience. Traveling, especially for professional drivers, can be challenging and stressful at times, so my goal is to alleviate some of that, by providing our guests with a consistent experience when they enter our stores: clean restrooms, friendly service, fresh food offerings with lots of variety, and also a wide selection of products for those on the go.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. It’s hard being a female in business (in every industry). But what I’ve learned — and I owe a lot of it to my mom — is that you must be strong and contribute.

Our industry (trucking) is heavily weighted with male leaders, so for many years now that’s the environment I have been operating in. In this environment, my advice would be to just try to be yourself and always be confident in your ability to do the job.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Trust in your team and make sure they know you are there to support them. Equally as important, work to spend time with them and get to know them. For large teams especially, it’s important that everyone hears your voice and knows you support them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My family, especially my mom Dee and dad Jimmy. In our family, hard work was a value instilled in us at a young age. When we were little, we would travel to visit Pilots and check to see how our team members were doing, how we could better support them, ensure the stores looked great and interact with guests. It was not unusual for us to see them jump in and assist if it was busy, with a “no job is too small” mentality. It is experiences like this that taught me the importance of teamwork, preparation and having passion for what you do.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My grandad always says, “To whom much is given, much is required.” The spirit of community and philanthropy has been a part of our family, and Pilot Flying J’s culture, from the very beginning, and continues today. We recently announced a special $2 million donation to more than 20 profits nationwide as part of Pilot Flying J’s 60th Anniversary celebration, and individually, myself and my family gives back to a variety of causes we are passionate about.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

· Be a good listener. Early on in my career it wasn’t a strength of mine. Then I learned that if you don’t listen to the details of what people are saying you miss connecting with them and then you can’t grow from them and you certainly can’t teach them or give them advice.

· Don’t be afraid to fail. Every failure is a learning experience and will make you a better leader.

· Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Seek ways to continue to better yourself as a person and a leader, don’t wait for opportunities to come to you.

· Always be open to receiving feedback on your performance and know the importance of delivering real-time transparent feedback to others.

· Appreciate the value of mentorship. Mentorship has made a tremendous impact in my life, both on a personal and professional level. My mentors have shown me what it takes to be successful and the importance of achieving my own version of success. They have pushed me to move outside my comfort zone, stay strong and never give up while also showing me the importance of me being a mentor to others.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“Before tasting success, you are likely to face many setbacks and failures. But the trick is to never let go of your enthusiasm, perseverance and positive attitude.” -Joseph Parker

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Condoleezza Rice. She is an inspiring, strong and passionate woman. I admire her unwavering determination which has driven her to gain an incredible array of experiences and education in the face of adversity.

Thank you for joining us!

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