Randy Lerner agreed Thursday to sell a majority stake in the Cleveland Browns to Jimmy Haslam (James A. Haslam III), CEO of the Tennessee-based Pilot Flying J Corporation, along with his family.
The sale is subject to a review by the NFL and a vote of the league’s owners at a later date.
“On behalf of my family and as trustee for the Lerner Family Trust, which holds the shares of the Cleveland Browns, I have agreed to sell the Browns to Jimmy Haslam and his family,” said Lerner, according to the team’s release.
“I was approached regarding Mr. Haslam’s interest several weeks ago. While as a fiduciary I have always felt it was my responsibility to listen to offers, I had not been approached with a proposal that felt as natural and complete as Mr. Haslam’s.
“He had done a lot of work on the Browns and the City of Cleveland and first and foremost gave me his personal assurance the team would remain in Cleveland,” he continued. ”As I was at first overwhelmed, I asked for a few days to consider the proposal during which time I consulted with my mother and sister. Over this short period we agreed that the proposal was strong, the buyers made sense and the time was right for us to move on.”
For the last 16 years, the 58-year old Haslam has been the CEO of Pilot Flying J Corporation, the nation’s largest retail operator of travel centers and truck stops. A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Haslam and his wife, Susan “Dee” Bagwell Haslam, have three adult children, Jim, Whitney and Cynthia.
Haslam, a Knoxville native, joined Pilot Corporation in 1976, a company his father, James A. Haslam II founded in 1958.
During Haslam’s career, Pilot Travel Centers has grown its annual gallon sales from approximately 125 million to 8 billion. In addition, the company has grown its network from seven states in the Southeast to 43 states in the US and six Canadian provinces with over 600 travel centers and travel plazas.
Today, Pilot Flying J is one of the top privately held companies in the United States and employs more than 21,000 people.
Haslam’s civic involvement includes service on the boards of directors for the United Way of Greater Knoxville and Lakeshore Park. He is the co-founder of the Haslam Scholars Program at the University of Tennessee and formerly served as campaign chair for Knox Area Rescue Ministries and United Way of Greater Knoxville.
Haslam also serves on the boards of Innovation Valley Inc., the National Association of Truckstop Operators, First Horizon Corporation, and Anderson Media Corporation.
In 2006, he served as Tennessee statewide campaign chair for the now United States Senator Bob Corker. Haslam was also the 2010 Tennessee statewide campaign chair for now Governor Bill Haslam.
In 2010, he was named a recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for the Southeast region. In October 2011, Haslam was recognized as a “Significant Sig” by the Sigma Chi Foundation. He also received the University of Tennessee College of Business Administration’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
In 2008, Haslam became a part owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, marking the first time ownership of the franchise expanded beyond the Rooney and McGinley families.
“This is a very exciting time for my family and me,” said Haslam. “To own such a storied franchise as the Cleveland Browns, with its rich tradition and history, is a dream come true. We are committed to keeping the team in Cleveland and seeing it get back to the elite of the NFL – something all Browns fans want and deserve.
“We plan to bring relentless dedication and hard work to every aspect of this organization, and we look forward to getting to know this team and community as quickly as possible,” he continued. “Our family is committed to becoming an integral part of the Cleveland community. We also want to thank Randy Lerner for his friendship, counsel and support during this process.”
Randy Lerner assumed control of the Browns in October 2002 following the death of his father, Al. The National Football League awarded the Cleveland franchise to Al Lerner on September 8, 1998. The formal transfer of ownership from the Browns Trust to Lerner took place on October 23, 1998.
“Going forward, we anticipate that the League will meet and vote on the deal and the closing is expected to follow shortly thereafter,” said Lerner. “During this time the organization will operate as it has in the past with all senior executives in place.
“While a statement like this is certainly part of the process, it couldn’t possibly capture my feelings towards the Browns and the many people whom I feel very strong about,” he added. ”Those feelings therefore will need to be expressed in person. Notwithstanding, I feel a deep debt of gratitude to the loyal and passionate fan base, as well as the people I’ve met and worked with over the years.
“It has been a privilege to be involved with the Cleveland Browns and my only hope is that the Haslam family has the best of luck and that the Browns are restored to their rightful place among NFL Champions.”