Delivering Fuel and Innovation

Brad Jenkins motivated his supply chain team at Pilot Flying J to reach the next level of excellence by getting diesel and gasoline to customers at unbeatable prices

Pilot Flying J's Lebanon, Tennessee location features eight diesel fuel lanes and a variety of amenities.
Brad Jenkins, Pilot Flying J

Brad Jenkins has experienced his share of incredible highs and challenging lows throughout his career in the oil industry. In fact, one of Jenkins’s low moments nearly cost him his life. On April 24, 1995, nearly 40 percent of his body was burned in an explosion at a small refining plant in Parker, Arizona, where he was completing some consulting work. The explosion was the result of a flammable vapor that ignited from a pilot light that failed to shut down automatically like it should have.

Jenkins was in a coma for forty-five days and stayed in the burn unit for three months. He beat the odds. Later, doctors told him he only had been given a 5 percent chance to live. But he still had to relearn how to walk, talk, and eat. “I was down there covering for the plant manager to make sure everyone was there for work that day and happened to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Jenkins recalls. “The accident was a defining moment in my life. I would say it’s the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me because it made me appreciate life more. It changed my perspective on life. It was a miracle in my mind that I lived.”

Despite that immense obstacle, Jenkins has persevered and is currently enjoying one of the highest points of his personal and professional life. Now, he is leading a team and streamlining the supply chain at Pilot Flying J in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he was hired as the senior vice president of supply and distribution in 2012. Pilot Flying J was already successful when Jenkins arrived, he says, and he realized that spearheading change in a financially stable organization would actually be more of a challenge than improving a company that is not doing well.

“They were very profitable, very efficient, but they were also behind in technology and had the potential to be so much better,” Jenkins says. “When I first got here, our systems were fifteen years old, and there had been very little system development. The change management was critical, and it was very well received by our team. I couldn’t be more proud of the team and how they’ve embraced the change and the challenge, and we’re seeing the result because of it.”

The numbers bear out that improvement, which was achieved by developing new software and convincing different departments to cooperate with each other. In 1996, Pilot Flying J sold roughly 1.1 billion gallons of diesel and gasoline fuel. In 2017, the company was on track to sell more than seven billion gallons of fuel. It now has about 750 locations in forty-four states and six Canadian provinces, and it is opening 20–25 new locations annually.

One of the ways Pilot Flying J has achieved that growth is by delivering fuel to customers at the lowest possible price. Achieving this meant aligning the goals and incentives among the company’s different departments and improving its technology so that different departments were not siloed and working against one another.

For example, the price of oil fluctuates throughout the day. Obtaining a lower price sometimes means trucks having to wait to fill up with oil at the best price. It costs money to have trucks idling and hurts the bottom line of the transportation department. But if it means a lower fuel price, then that will benefit the supply department and the company overall. To mitigate this issue, Jenkins aligned incentives and goals for all of the departments in the supply chain so they help another department save money.

“The goals and the compensation may be weighted differently, but everybody has skin in the game to make sure supply, logistics, and transportation are all working together to get fuel to the store at the lowest possible price,” Jenkins explains.

Pilot Flying J developed special software that makes this possible, which helps Jenkins and his department manage the company’s portfolio of supply in an optimal way for the stores, he says. “We have three pretty clear goals: keep the store supplied with fuel, deliver it at the lowest price, and use our assets as efficiently as possible,” Jenkins says. “Getting the lowest-price fuel delivered into the store is a combination of how we bought it, how we transported it, and how we sold it.”

Jenkins’s six departments are responsible for the fuel products Pilot Flying J sells, of which about 80 percent is diesel fuel and the rest is gasoline. His ability to manage his departments successfully, however, is the product of decades of experience in the oil and gas industry.

Jenkins began his career in the 1980s at his father’s oil company in Flagstaff, Arizona, while he was still attending high school. “I did everything from grunt work to billing to sales to you name it,” Jenkins recalls.

He then went on to play football in junior college in 1987 and 1988, but when his father was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in 1988, Jenkins left school to work in the family oil business. After his father sold the business in the early 1990s, Jenkins worked for Seaport Petroleum in Phoenix, where he met one of his mentors, Keith Perry.

“How to drive value is something Keith taught me at an early age,” Jenkins says. “That was where I learned more about the supply chain. I didn’t have anybody to blame if something broke down; I caused it. There was nobody to yell at.”

To this day, Jenkins puts the lessons he’s learned throughout his career to good use as he pilots his team toward even greater success in the future.

From Gas to Grass-fed Cattle

Brad Jenkins has spent his career in the oil industry, but he is looking forward to a more agrarian home life. He recently bought a farm that is only a twenty-five-minute drive from his office in Knoxville, Tennessee. With his wife and two boys, who are nine and three-and-a-half years old, he plans to raise 15–20 grass-fed cattle for beef and sell it to local buyers.

“We’ve had enough interest just from people that are concerned about the quality of food that exists in today’s world with all the steroids and antibiotics that are being injected into cattle,” Jenkins says. “The idea is to teach our two boys to start working outside like my dad taught me.”

Currently, the farmhouse is being rebuilt. “Our intention is to live there on the farm full-time,” Jenkins continues.

Photos: Meaghan Roland