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VIProfile: James Chiu

James Chiu, Senior Director of Strategy and Execution at Pilot Company, moved to Knoxville from Houston, Texas, in November 2020. Initially hired to work in business development and strategy at Pilot in 2018, Chiu had followed Shameek Konar, current CEO of Pilot, to the company when Konar accepted his initial position at Pilot as chief strategy officer in 2018. Konar and Chiu had first worked together in Geneva, Switzerland. When Konar was promoted to CEO, he brought Chiu to Knoxville.

“He needed someone he trusts,” Chiu said of Konar. “He needed someone who understands how he thinks.”

Chiu, who spent his career at Morgan Stanley prior to accepting his first position at Pilot, says he loves working at Pilot.

“You have people who understand how to operate, how to service people,” he said. “It’s running a physical, tangible business. At a bank or a trading company, you move paper around and do trades. It’s a different kind of problem solving. At Pilot I have the opportunity to marry all the skills I’ve acquired to an operational company. I like working with people, and I like doing things where I can see a real world impact.”

As Director of Strategy and Execution, Chiu tackles big issues and projects. As an example, he explains that one project involves autonomous trucking and electric vehicles. “How do we adapt to these things as a company?” he asked. “My background in commodities and energy has been helpful here.”

Strategy and execution also means paying attention to stocking products consumers will be looking for as they travel during the next few months. “Shameek Konar says ‘summer’s coming early this year. Do we have enough candy bars?’” Chiu said, laughing. “I’ve gone from a company that’s worried about geopolitics to ‘do we have enough chocolate bars?’”

“Working with the team the Haslam family built has been a real privilege,” he continued. “They really care about the people they work with, the city they live in and the industry they serve.”

Chiu comes to Knoxville having lived all over the world. His father was in the oil industry so the family moved a lot. He thinks of Calgary, in the Canadian province of Alberta, as home. He mentions New York City, Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing as places he has lived. He met his wife, Chris, a lawyer who was raised in Shanghai, in Beijing, where both were on temporary assignment.

“She was very attractive,” he said, “and she spoke English. I don’t speak Chinese, but Chris is teaching me Mandarin.”

The couple moved from Beijing to London where James worked in banking and Chris was in-house counsel for a Chinese investment firm. Next up were Geneva and Houston--and then Knoxville.

The Chius looked forward to moving to Knoxville. They had developed good feelings about the city when James traveled to Knoxville for meetings and company gatherings prior to their relocating.

“While he’s in his meetings, I wandered around the city,” said Chris. “I took the bus. I checked out the zoo, the museum. When James came home, I asked him, ‘Did you know Knoxville is the red panda capital of the world?’”

“Knoxville has the best of city living and country living,” they both agreed. “Everything is a very easy commute and so close to nature, to parks and greenways. We’ve walked all the greenways.”

“Knoxville has good feng shui,” said Chris. “The Chinese think mountains and water provide protection but also resources.”

“It reminds me of Canada,” said James. “I grew up a couple of blocks from a national park. We’ll wake up early and drive to Concord Park. The dogs know us. We’re tempted to give them treats, but we don’t know the owners well enough yet.”

Having lived here just six months, the Chius already feel at home in Knoxville, citing the friendliness of the people they’ve met.

“Everyone is super friendly and supportive,” said Chris. “They treat me like part of their extended family. They remind me of the people I grew up with in Shanghai. It’s a very different feeling than the big cities--no eye contact, people live in their own box. This is a real community.”

“It’s what I’ve been missing,” she added.

“It’s really nice to know people who live all over the world, to have an international network,” said James. “It’s a different experience getting to know colleagues and friends. We feel like this is a place where we can put down roots.”

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