Whitney Haslam Johnson serves as chief experience officer for Pilot Flying J. She joined the company’s board of directors in 2015.
Whitney 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 satisfaction are the focus of every Pilot Flying J interaction. Her work has been instrumental in making Pilot Flying J one of the most dynamic and recognizable brands across North America.
Whitney previously served as category manager and creative services manager for Pilot Travel Centers LLC. In 2010, Pilot Travel Centers LLC merged with Flying J Inc. to form Pilot Flying J. As category manager for the company, she focused on the tobacco and grocery categories.
Prior to joining Pilot Flying J, Whitney served as assistant controller at Marriott International Hotels.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, in 2001.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
In our family, hard work was a value instilled in us at a young age. My parents would pack us in the car and hit the road to visit Pilots. We would 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 has your previous employment experience aided your current role?
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. This experience helped shape my passion for creating a positive experience for our team members and guests.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role?
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. Our successes and failures are partly measured by the feedback we receive from our team members and guests. I want the experience at Pilot Flying J to be consistent at all of our locations, so the guest knows what to expect 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.
As the retail industry continues to look for new and exciting ways to reach customers, we continue to innovate and stay ahead while always maintaining excellence in providing fast, friendly and clean service to our guests.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
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 have to be strong and contribute.
My 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 is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
It took me some time to learn this — embrace change and lead change. For the first several years of 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 actually healthy to change things up and take on responsibilities that push you out of your comfort zone. Seek out ways to continue to evolve instead of waiting for it to come.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Being a working mom of three boys isn’t always easy. I can’t be everything to everyone – but I know I can be a good mom and still be good at my job. While there are always things in my personal life that I may have to miss due to work obligations and vice versa, I have a great team at work and at home that support me.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Day in and day out, woman everywhere are fighting to be heard and make a difference. If you believe in your idea and believe it’s the right thing for your company, then keep pushing for it. Find the right time and place and you’ll be heard.
How can we encourage more women to start their own business?
While I haven’t started my own business, I truly believe all women need to support each other – we need to lean on each other when we need help and need to listen to each other when we need advice. Starting your own business is never easy, but you have a good foundation if you build a solid support system and are passionate about your business. In my opinion, without trying, you can never succeed. Failures may come along the way, but those failures will make you better and stronger.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
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.
I have learned to always be open to receiving feedback on my performance, and the importance of delivering real-time transparent feedback to others. At Pilot Flying J, we often talk about providing candor with kindness and with the greater good of the individual and organization in mind.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
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.
My Mom, Dee Haslam. I am continually inspired by her strong leadership as a career woman and as my mother. Her authenticity and confidence motivates me every day. She makes an impact in every single thing she does. She cares deeply about the people who work for her as well as the communities in which our companies are based.
What do you want to do professionally and personally accomplish in the next year?
My focus over the next year is to lead and develop people and to continue to improve and find ways to make Pilot Flying J a better place to work and shop. Personally, finding ways to optimize my time between family and work is a priority for me this coming year.
What are the top three tips you can offer to an entrepreneur starting out?
- 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.