Mon | Dec 18, 2017

Buffett acquires stake in truck stop chain

Published:Wednesday | October 4, 2017 | 12:03 AM
Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Warren Buffett's company is acquiring a major stake in Pilot Flying J truck stops and it will become a majority owner within about five years.

The ubiquitous truck stops, 750 of them in 44 states and Canada, combine into the 15th largest private company in the United States, according to Forbes, with revenue of more than US$20 billion per year.

Berkshire Hathaway and Pilot Travel Centers announced the deal Tuesday morning. Initially, Berkshire will buy 38.6 per cent of the company that runs 750 truck stops across 44 states and Canada and employs 27,000, but in 2023 that will increase to 80 per cent.

Financial terms weren't disclosed, so it wasn't immediately clear how much of Berkshire's roughly US$100 billion in cash will be used for the transaction.

Pilot Flying J, which is run by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, has been under scrutiny in recent years because of a diesel fuel rebate scam that led to criminal charges against several executives.

The Knoxville, Tennessee, company paid a US$85 million settlement with some of the defrauded customers as well as a US$92 million penalty to the government.

Haslam said Berkshire is a good fit for his family business.

"Our company has been in business almost 60 years, and Warren is the ultimate long-term investor," Haslam said.

"So between his long-term mentality, the fact that he lets the businesses he buys alone to run the business, and of course the fact that he has an almost unlimited source of capital all those things were appealing to Pilot Flying J."

Berkshire owns Clayton Homes, also based in Knoxville, and its CEO Kevin Clayton is close friends with Haslam, which eased negotiations between the two sides.

As part of the deal the Haslam family will reduce its stake to 20 per cent and another minority owner will sell by 2023.

Haslam said Berkshire's financial resources will help the company grow by building more locations or possibly acquiring competitors.

Berkshire is an eclectic conglomerate that owns more than 90 businesses, including Geico insurance, BNSF railroad, and several utilities and manufacturers.

When the US economy expands, Buffett said Pilot Flying J will provide Berkshire with an additional revenue stream.

"Most of our businesses are a bet on the United States," Buffett said. And Pilot Flying J fits that model well.

"It fuels America when you get right down to it. You can look at these highways as the arteries of prosperity in the United States," Buffett said.

Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire holds major investments in Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Apple and other well-known companies.