Berkshire Hathaway Bets Big on Truck Stops

The possibility of a self-driving future apparently doesn't faze Warren Buffett, who will acquire majority control of Pilot Flying J in 2023.
Matthew HellerOctober 3, 2017

America may be heading toward a self-driving future but Warren Buffett still has faith in truckers.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate announced Tuesday it had agreed to acquire an immediate 38.6% stake in Pilot Flying J, the largest truck stop operator in North America. Under the terms of the agreement, it would acquire another 41.4% in 2023, giving it majority control.

Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying J is currently controlled by the Haslam family, which will retain 20% ownership once Buffett takes over. CEO Jimmy Haslam’s father founded what became Pilot Flying J in 1958, with a single gas station.

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“Pilot Flying J is built on a longstanding tradition of excellence and an unrivaled commitment to serving North America’s drivers,” Buffett said in a news release. “Jimmy Haslam and his team have created an industry leader and a key enabler of the nation’s economy.”

“The company has a smart growth strategy in place and we look forward to a partnership that supports the trucking industry for years to come,” he added.

Buffett has been relatively quiet on the acquisition front lately but has other transportation holdings including the BNSF railroad. Pilot Flying J has more than 27,000 employees, 750 locations across the US and Canada, and more than $20 billion in annual revenue.

According to a recent White House report, 80% to 100% of nearly 1.7 million heavy truck drivers could lose their jobs to automation. Robot-run trucks are transporting cargo at one of Singapore’s busiest ports and, in Australia, they are hauling iron ore.

“In tossing so much money into Pilot Flying J, the 86-year-old businessman is making a bet that there will continue to be money spent and made on America’s much-mythologized highways,” Quartz said.

“Adding Pilot Flying J also boosts [Buffett’s] bet on U.S. economic growth,” Reuters said.

Jimmy Haslam also owns the Cleveland Browns football team. “Given the impeccable reputation of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and our shared vision and values, we decided this was an ideal opportunity,” he said.