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College of Business Administration Honors Alumni

UT Honors Alumni.

(from left) Jimmy Haslam, BB&T’s Missy Wallen, Bob Baron, Dean Jan Williams

KNOXVILLE, TN — The College of Business Administration at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has honored four alumni and organizations for their extraordinary commitment to the college, their professions, and their community.

The awards were given out at the college’s third annual alumni gala at the James A. Haslam II Business Building.

James A. Haslam III (“Jimmy”), president and CEO of Pilot Flying J, was honored as the Distinguished Alum of the Year. He is the 22st person recognized with this award, which was given for the first time in 1982.

Ali Safavi, executive director of international business, The Walt Disney Company, was honored as the Outstanding Young Alum; BB&T was named the Outstanding Corporate Partner; and Bob Baron, founder, president and CEO of Baron Services, Inc., received the Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Distinguished Alum
James A. Haslam, III

James A. Haslam III (“Jimmy”) is president and chief executive officer of Pilot Flying J, one of the top-10, privately held companies in the United States. Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, Pilot Flying J operates a network of more than 550 interstate travel centers and truck stops spanning 43 states and six Canadian provinces.

The company was founded in 1958 as a single gas station in Gate City, Virginia, by Jimmy’s father, James A. Haslam II. By the time Jimmy had joined the family business in 1976, the company had expanded to nearly 100 convenience stores. Shortly after Jimmy was named vice president of sales, development, and operations, the company invested in the restaurant business, and the “travel center” concept—which combines the best features of truck stops, convenience centers, and brand-named restaurants—was born. The company boomed, and by the time Jimmy was named to his current position, Pilot was operating 96 travel centers and 50 convenience stores.  A partnership with—and later buyout of—Marathon Petroleum Company as well as a 2010 merger with Flying J Inc. have fueled the company’s most recent growth.

Jimmy currently serves on the boards of First Horizon National, Ruby Tuesday Inc., Anderson Media Corp., and Innovation Valley Inc. He also has served on the boards of directors for the University of Tennessee Athletics, United Way of Knoxville, and Lakeshore Park, among others. He is part owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ardent supporters of the University of Tennessee, Jimmy and his wife Susan “Dee” Bagwell Haslam, also a UT alum, have given $10 million to fund several endowed professorships and to create the prestigious Haslam Scholars university program. In addition, Dee serves on the UT College of Business Administration’s Dean’s Advisory Council.

Looking back on his early years as a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Jimmy credits the leadership opportunities he enjoyed for opening his eyes to vast-ranging possibilities and also introducing him to people who would shape his career and become friends for life.

“My family and I have the highest respect for the University of Tennessee, and the College of Business Administration is particularly dear to our hearts,” says Jimmy. “We have received so much from UT—we feel an obligation to stay involved and do what we can to make it even better than it was when we were here.”

Outstanding Young Alum
Ali Safavi
Executive Director of International Business, The Walt Disney Company
Ali Safavi claims to be the biggest UT supporter on the West Coast. “I just love the University of Tennessee. I’m incredibly proud that I went there, and I’m ecstatic about the progress being made there today.”

Safavi earned his JD/MBA at UT in 2002. He joined Procter & Gamble and served in brand management for three years before taking a position in international management with The Walt Disney Company.  Several promotions later, Safavi is now an executive director of international business with the company. 

As he travels around the world, Safavi voluntarily serves as a global ambassador for UT.  “I’m surrounded by a lot of intelligent and passionate people,” explains Safavi, “and when I hear them contemplating their educational options, I often interject, ‘Why not Tennessee? It offers one of the best returns on investment in the world!’”

Safavi makes it to Knoxville several times a year to speak to students in UT’s College of Business Administration and to serve on the MBA Advisory Board. In addition, he is a faithful contributor to an MBA scholarship endowment. “I have made a commitment to spend my entire professional career giving back to the university that invested in me and played such a key role in helping me get to where I am today.”

Outstanding Corporate Partner
BB&T

BB&T (NYSE:BBT), headquartered in Winston-Salem, N.C., currently is ranked as the 11th largest financial holding company in the nation, with more than 30,000 employees operating approximately 1,800 financial centers in 12 states and Washington, D.C. BB&T consistently is rated one of the soundest financial institutions of those listed in the S&P 500 index and has been recognized repeatedly by Fortune magazine as one of America’s “Most Admired Companies.”

The company likes to remain close to its clients. As a result, it is structured so that its banking subsidiaries are organized as community banks. Each has its own regional president, which allows decisions to be made locally.

“One of our core missions at BB&T is to make the communities in which we work better places to be, and our partnership with UT’s College of Business Administration helps us fulfill that mission,” explains BB&T East Tennessee regional president Martha S. Wallen (BA, 1974). BB&T officers are quite active on campus, serving as adjunct professors, speakers, competition judges, panelists, mentors, and advisors. Moreover, BB&T funds an ethics faculty position at UT as well as an ethics lecture series that was launched in 2010 with an address by former BB&T chairman and CEO John Allison. Allison’s presentation assured students that adhering to a set of high principles can lead to both personal and professional success.

“BB&T is delighted to partner with such a world-class educational program in providing future business leaders with a strong foundation in values-based leadership,” says Wallen.

Entrepreneur of the Year
Bob Baron
Founder, President and CEO, Baron Services, Inc.

A 1968 graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Business Administration, majoring in journalism, Bob Baron spent 22 years in the radio and television industries before launching Baron Services, Inc.  Today, Huntsville, Alabama-based Baron Services is a worldwide leader in weather systems. The company holds more than 30 patents for innovations in storm tracking, radar, and weather-alerting technology.

Baron Services’ initial innovation was developing the first strike-by-strike lightening tracking system, which overlaid NASA’s lightning data onto digital maps. Next, the company incorporated precipitation data from live Doppler Radar and discovered a way to identify at-risk communities and estimate storm arrival times. Today, Baron Services’ storm-tracking technology is considered the gold standard for television weather coverage.

Baron Services, the dominant U.S. manufacturer of Doppler weather radar equipment, was selected by the U.S. government to upgrade the country’s aging network of 171 Doppler radar installations with next-generation technology. Baron Services also is the leader in delivering satellite-generated weather data to planes, boats, and automobiles.

An avid supporter of UT’s College of Business Administration, Baron regularly speaks to classes and financially supports the MBA Entrepreneur Fellows program. “I’m very appreciative of the benefits I’ve received from the college and enjoy supporting a program that recognizes the critical importance of the growth and development of entrepreneurial businesses,” says Baron.


Posted: 11/3/2011

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