David Clothier Pilots Financial Process Evolution

Pilot Flying J’s David Clothier leads several key initiatives that are fundamentally changing how the Travel Centers and stores work

Five years into an auditor role for a public accounting firm, David Clothier knew he didn’t belong there much longer. “Everyone smiles when they see you, but you know they hate that you’re there,” Clothier says with a charming, slow drawl. “The only day that smile is actually genuine is the day you’re leaving.”

The part of the job Clothier found most rewarding, the management letter that provided the company with ideas to improve their business practices, was too small a part of the process. After spending a month in over a hundred businesses, Clothier decided he would like to do more than find problems. He’d like to implement solutions.

Twenty-seven years in, the now vice president of finance, strategic development and treasurer for Pilot Flying J has helped initiate process evolution in the $25 billion company with over 30,000 employees.

David Clothier Pilot Flying J
David Clothier, Pilot Flying JPhoto: Courtesy of Pilot Flying J

Far more than just a numbers guy, Clothier has his hands in several key initiatives that are fundamentally changing the way Pilot’s Travel Centers and stores work, including a companywide initiative to literally eliminate half of all tasks that employees do in stores.

A Different Kind of Recycling

Pilot has successfully implemented cash recyclers with outcomes that are having both immediate and long-term effects. The bulky machines essentially look like giant ATMs and are located in full view of customers in the store.

At the beginning of the day, employees type in a code and receive their till money for the day and deposit it back into the machine when finished. “We determined that we spend almost a full-time job just touching coin and currency,” Clothier says. “These machines now report back balances immediately, credit our account, and the bank picks it up without us having to do a thing.”

If a retail business like Pilot isn’t constantly looking for ways to evolve, Clothier explains, they’ll be out of business. “Everything about retail now is about efficiency, efficiency, efficiency,” Clothier says.

“We forged a relationship with David seven years ago on our Currency Processing Solutions recycler program,” says Michael Brooks, vice president of cash logistics at Fifth Third Bank. “David’s forward-thinking thought leadership has allowed our fully managed service approach to solve Pilot Flying J’s cash logistics needs.”

The cash recyclers have also had unintended advantages. Pilot’s average of about four robberies a month has dropped a staggering 95 percent. “You can only get $250 out of the machine at a time,” he says. “And, frankly, I think the people committing these crimes figured out very quickly that they weren’t really enjoying their robbery experience.”

Because safes are no longer on-site holding large amounts of cash, there just isn’t enough incentive for robbers.

Pop a Locker

In conjunction with successful cash recycler implementation, Pilot is also piloting an electronic locker device program to combat stores constant need for coin on hand. Instead of paying an armored vehicle $1,000 to deliver $300 worth of nickels once a month, Pilot has installed electronic lockers at a number of locations whose contents are filled routinely by UPS.

Whenever a store is out of necessary coinage, they simply get a code from a store website, input the code on the locker, and the amount of coin is automatically debited to store HQ. That coin is deposited immediately into the cash recycler, and the process is complete.

Here, too, there have been unintended benefits. “We’ve eliminated another reason why money can go missing,” Clothier says. “We expect every store to understand their tills should come in at $0 every single day, no questions.”

Second, it keeps bulky and weighty bags of coin from piling up in offices that had recently been cleared of cash thanks to the recyclers. “Nobody has to count anything, and we’re hoping it’s just another way to make someone’s day simpler,” Clothier says.

An ERP for Everyone

When the HR department expressed a need for better HR systems at Pilot, Clothier says a novel idea presented itself. Pilot elected to buy the full suite of services from the company that was already providing their financial processes, relative upstart Infor.

“We liked them because you could actually talk to them,” Clothier says. “The other systems would be about ten times the cost, three times the implementation time, and they really didn’t care if they could solve your problems or not.”

Clothier said the success of the Infor enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation is rare for a number of reasons. “Rarely is an a unified set by the same system, often because egos at the senior management level won’t allow it,” Clothier says. “No ERP is going to be the absolute best at every single process, but Infor has demonstrated the willingness to help us solve for the things we need it to do.”

It doesn’t hurt that Infor was the first company to operate exclusively from the cloud. “Those big companies are currently going through hell right now trying to get everyone moved to the cloud,” Clothier says. “We were already there, and it has paid off in spades.”

There is a board in Clothier’s office with forty-some projects either in the works or mapped out. The company was able to leverage Western Union into overhauling its lengthy transaction process down to mere minutes. Another process slashed.

Looking ahead, Clothier says he’s intrigued at presentations he’s seen involving artificial intelligence’s ability to read, pay, and account for services automatically, without a human ever getting involved.

Nearly three decades in, Clothier says he feels like he’s just getting started.