Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is returning to his “first love” as CEO of Pilot Flying J, the company announced Monday.
But he insists he isn’t abandoning the Browns and won’t become an absentee owner.
“We’re gonna be involved in Northeastern Ohio,” Haslam said Thursday during a speech at a Canton Chamber of Commerce dinner. “Whether it’s involved in the United Way of Cleveland, whether it’s involved in education, whether it’s attending events like this, we’re gonna be involved.
“We’ve obviously made a substantial investment in the Browns. We’re gonna be here, and be here a lot. We feel a responsibility to take part in events like this and make this an even better place to live, and you have our commitment that we’ll do that.”
Haslam, who bought a lakefront mansion in Bratenahl, replaces John Compton, the former president of PepsiCo who was hired in September to replace Haslam in his everyday role at Pilot Flying J. Compton will become an adviser to Pilot Flying J, the Browns and the Haslam family, which owns both entities.
“This is about me realizing my first love is running Pilot Flying J and wanting to return to that job,” Haslam told the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel.
Haslam agreed to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner in the summer and the $1 billion sale became official in October. Haslam had realized his full-time venture into NFL ownership required a large commitment and he would have less time for Pilot Flying J in the short term.
Haslam announced the hiring of Joe Banner as CEO of the Browns when the league approved the sale, and Banner oversees the day-to-day operations of the franchise.
Haslam and Banner recently hired coach Rob Chudzinski and vice president of player personnel Michael Lombardi. Alec Scheiner was hired as president to handle the business side.
The completed construction of the front office, which includes Sashi Browns as executive VP, general counsel and Brent Stehlik as executive VP, chief revenue officer, allows Haslam to shift his attention back to Pilot Flying J. Haslam had been CEO from 1994 until he stepped down in September.
“It certainly will have no impact on the operations of the Browns,” team spokesman Neal Gulkis said. “It certainly won’t affect Jimmy’s involvement with the team, or his commitment, or passion. He’s as passionate as ever.”
Compton said in the news release he looks forward to assisting the Browns, but Gulkis said his role will be strictly as an adviser.
“He’s got strong expertise in branding and marketing,” Gulkis said. “If there’s ever a time we need to pick his brain on something, we will.”
Haslam’s return to his former role with Pilot Flying J was a surprise because of the magnitude of the Compton hiring. He had spent more than two decades at PepsiCo and was considered a leading candidate to become chairman and CEO before he left for Pilot Flying J.
“John and I’ve had really positive conversations and I think we both feel good about the positions that we’re both returning to or going to,” Haslam told the News Sentinel.
“I have greatly enjoyed working directly with the Pilot Flying J teams and look forward to assisting the Cleveland Browns as well,” Compton said.
Pilot Oil Corp. was founded in 1958 by Jim Haslam, Jimmy’s father. Jimmy joined the board at age 20 while a student at the University of Tennessee. Pilot Flying J has become the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in North America with more than 650 locations.
“I am very excited to reassume the CEO role of Pilot Flying J,” Haslam said. “It’s not at all about John, it’s more about Jimmy having a change of heart in terms of what he wanted to do.”
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