Apologizing to Browns' Fans and Facing Trucking Execsby Jana Ritter - Published: 5/09/2013
Owning the Cleveland Browns and Pilot Flying J Truck Stops has Jimmy Haslam wearing two very different and now very difficult hats. Recently plagued by a very public federal investigation into his Pilot Flying J alleged fuel rebate scandal, Haslam made a few brief media statements denying his wrong doing then pretty much went into hiding. Until Tuesday, when he popped up at a Cleveland sports award banquet with apologies and promises for fretting football fans. Now, Haslam prepares for the more daunting task - addressing the serious concerns of trucking executives at a seminar in Indianapolis next week.
Pilot Flying J has been battered by federal allegations that certain employees for years had conspired to engage in rebate fraud against unsophisticated trucking companies. The company subsequently announced that several employees had been placed on leave, and retained a former Justice Department attorney to conduct an investigation. Haslam has said he believes only a small number of trucking companies may have been cheated and while he's been calling hundreds of owners and operators, he's had an internal audit team going over accounts. He insists that not only did his company agree to do all this; they volunteered to do it on their own. He also promises that after the investigation- he estimates will probably take several months- the independent investigator will turn his findings over to the board.
Whatever solace this provides for the list of companies either suing Pilot J or searching their records tallying the hundreds of thousands they may have been ripped off, Haslam had these words to renew faith in his new football enterprise. "I apologize to the city of Cleveland, northeast Ohio and all Browns fans because the last thing we ever wanted to do as a new owner was to detract from football and Browns and just what a great football area this is," he said Tuesday. As the featured speaker at the Northeastern Ohio Chapter of the National Football Foundation's 25th annual scholar-athlete banquet, it was one of Haslam's first public appearances in Ohio since the FBI raided the headquarters of Pilot Flying J.
Promising a winning season ahead, Haslam left the sports banquet with a message about football that he should also apply to his business. "Most of the lessons that I've learned in life, candidly, came through athletics and I think particularly football," he said. "The great thing about football is it's the ultimate team sport. No matter what position you play, if you don't do your job, you're going to let the team down. Candidly, that's the way life is, that's what business that we play in, and you've got to count on everybody on your team."
The much tougher Indianapolis event next week will be hosted by Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary, an Indianapolis-based law firm that focuses on the transportation sector and whose clients including trucking companies. Haslam will also be speaking at this May 16 seminar - where he is able to choose from questions submitted in advance and prepare exactly what he will provide the trucking industry as answers.