Watch the celebration of Knox.biz Top Workplaces 2022
Knox News and Knox.biz held their annual Knoxville Top Workplaces 2022 celebration at The Foundry, Thursday, July 21, 2022.
Knoxville News Sentinel
Kayla Brown has only been working at the Pilot Flying J travel center on Watt Road for two years, but Pilot Company has been a part of her life for much longer.
Her father, John, has been with Pilot for 30 years and Brown has seen him support her, her mother and two sisters all her life. So when the pandemic hit in March 2020, Brown decided it was time to give something back.
“I love my dad and I wanted to help him,” Brown said. “But I also fell in love with it.”
She’s just one of thousands of team members who keep travelers moving at truck stops across North America and a proud associate of Knoxville’s Top Workplaces winner.
Pilot is this year’s first winner in the large companies category. It’s the fifth time the company has received the Knoxville-area designation and the second time they’ve won first place.
Top workplaces 2022: See the full lists of Knoxville companies that have made the switch
Team members come first
Founded in 1958, the oil and convenience store company employs nearly 2,500 people in the Knoxville area. According to Pilot, it has more than 28,000 employees in the US and Canada and is the largest fuel supplier in North America, supplying more than 14 billion gallons of fuel annually.
But Pilot is in guest services, and at the heart of that business is the people, said Jamie Landis, the company’s vice president of team member experience. That ‘people first’ culture starts with meeting the needs of pilot team members in the field.
“We believe in this value chain: team, guests, financial. Take care of your team first, the team will take care of your guests and the finances will come,” Landis said.
Pilot’s Paul Shore talks about the company’s corporate culture
Pilot’s Chief People Officer, Paul Shore, talks about the company’s corporate culture. Pilot is winner of Top Workplace 2022.
Brianna Paciorka, Knoxville News Sentinel
Landis began reinventing team members’ experience when she joined Pilot a year ago, and the company’s willingness to build and improve is part of what brought and keeps her there.
“What we’re doing, it’s just fun. It’s fun to enhance the experience for our teams, and it’s exciting to be able to build and to have the alignment and support and backing of our leadership team,” Landis said.
A big part of reshaping that team experience has meant going out on the field, meeting team members like Brown and asking them what they want, what they need, and what the company could do better.
“We need to make sure we deliver the best experience for team members to ensure we recruit and ultimately retain the best of the best,” Landis said.
Top Workplaces small winner: Kramer Rayson builds workplace where employees ‘stay together’
Top Workplaces Medium Winner: Pinnacle Financial Partners maintains culture through growth
Refueling and feeding employees
One way to improve team members’ experience: introduce fuel discounts.
Gasoline prices are rising across the country, but members of the Pilot team are paying 15 cents less per gallon every time they fill up.
“With the rising costs of and pressure on gas prices, we thought this would be a really good benefit per team member,” said Paul Shore, the chief people officer at Pilot Company.
The fuel discount system started in April when Landis was talking to a team member in the field. Pilot employees can refuel at any gas station and receive a discount via an app on their phone.
The team members in the pilot’s field also receive free meals. During each shift, team members are given $10 to spend on food, which Landis says helps ensure employees don’t go hungry.
“These are quick wins that… immediately meet the needs of our people while also removing some of the boulders that get in the way of the job,” Landis said.
But the company isn’t just focused on “quick wins” for its employees — it’s focused on long-term career paths and giving employees the resources and opportunities they need to achieve their goals.
Promotion of career paths
Samantha King, a data and analytics strategy manager, knew she wanted to be a long-term project manager when she joined the company nine years ago. She stayed because Pilot helped clear that path for her.
“Pilot has always been with me on my career path and journey, making sure I am where I want to be, as well as where they need me,” King said. “It’s been a working relationship to ensure I can follow my career path, desires and goals.”
King said Pilot gave her time to earn her professional project management certification, which can take weeks to achieve.
She’s not alone in thinking about her future in the company. Brown, a co-manager of a store, is also looking for her next opportunity.
“I really can’t wait for the future and the opportunities and growth. My five-year plan is definitely to become a district manager,” Brown said. “That’s definitely something that (I have a) passion for.”
To learn what she needs to be successful, Brown plans to attend Pellissippi State Community College and eventually transfer to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to continue her education with help from Pilot’s tuition reimbursement program.
“I don’t think many other places are behind you. Pilot is. With the maternity leave and tuition reimbursement program, they’re just trying to help people get better,” Brown said.
Brown is 21 weeks pregnant, so she will benefit from the six-week paid parental leave policy later this year. Meanwhile, King has just returned from having a child, and as she balances between being a mom for the first time and a career switch that happened just before she went on leave, she appreciates her company even more.
“Pilot has certainly leaned on that as much as I can lean on and given me the space to be a mother,” King said.
It goes back to that team first — and King would say family first — culture that Shore says is critical to success and one of CEO Shameek Konar’s top priorities when he started in 2021.
“The guest experience will never surpass a team member’s experience,” said Shore. “That really made us think about whether we should do everything we should, should do, to support that team member.”
Runner Up: United Cleanup Oak Ridge LLC
Even though the Manhattan Project took place 80 years ago, Oak Ridge still feels its impact. First, there’s environmental cleanup work that needs to be done, and that’s where United Cleanup Oak Ridge comes in.
Today, with 2,041 employees in the Knoxville area, UCOR is cleaning project-era facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex, as well as remediating the ground in East Tennessee Technology Park. While this sounds like complicated work – and it is – the company maintains a ‘caring culture’ through child advocacy and staff development.
While several employees mentioned the meaningful work that takes place at UCOR, the impact on the community is just as important.
“I’m proud of what I do,” one employee said in a Top Workplaces survey. “And I know I’m making a difference.”
Third place: First Horizon
When it comes to banks, they don’t get much bigger than First Horizon — at least in Tennessee. As the largest bank headquartered in the Voluntary State, the company has had a financial impact since it was founded during the Civil War, now with a “secret weapon” called Firstpower.
That’s the name First Horizon gives to its unique culture – a culture that is constantly evolving as the bank continues to grow. First Horizon has 8,555 employees in the United States, and several employees said the company’s strong values contribute to a satisfying work environment.
“I feel like management cares about me as a person,” one employee said in a Top Workplaces survey. “The company as a whole feels that way about our customers, and it shows how we do business.”