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Warren Buffett sees value in American truck stops as Berkshire Hathaway buys stake in Pilot Flying J

  • The company is the largest operator of truck stops and rest stops in North America, with 750 locations.
  • Forbes ranks it 15th on its list of largest private companies, with more than $20 billion in revenue.

Warren Buffett's conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway announced Tuesday that it has taken a "significant minority investment" in Pilot Travel Centers.

Better known as Pilot Flying J, the company is the largest operator of truck stops and rest stops in North America, with 750 locations and more than $20 billion in revenue. The company is 15th on Forbes' list of America's largest private companies.

Berkshire will acquire a 38.6 percent equity stake in the family-owned company, which was founded by James Haslam in 1958 and has more than 27,000 employees. The Haslam family will hold a majority interest with 50.1 percent ownership. FJ Management, owned by the Maggelet family, will retain 11.3 percent ownership until 2023, when Berkshire will become the majority shareholder.

Jimmy Haslam, the founder's son, will remain CEO, and the company's headquarters will remain in Knoxville, Tennessee. He and his wife own the Cleveland Browns and his brother, Bill Haslam, is Tennessee's governor.

Warren Buffett at the Annual Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder's Meeting in Omaha, NE on May 6, 2017.
Lacy O'Toole | CNBC
Warren Buffett at the Annual Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder's Meeting in Omaha, NE on May 6, 2017.

"Jimmy Haslam and his team have created an industry leader and a key enabler of the nation's economy," Buffett, chairman, president and CEO of Berkshire, said in a statement. "The Company has a smart growth strategy in place and we look forward to a partnership that supports the trucking industry for years to come."

In 2023, Berkshire will become the majority shareholder of Pilot Flying J by acquiring an additional 41.4 percent equity stake for a total 80 percent stake in the company. The Haslam family will retain 20 percent ownership.

Haslam said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" Tuesday that a mutual friend introduced him to the billionaire investor in May.

Florida, California and Texas are some of the company's strongest markets, Haslam said. Business is "up substantially in Florida and Texas" in the wake of the hurricanes, he said. Overall, the U.S. economy is "certainly better than it was a couple years ago."