When Robin Puthusseril, vice president and co-owner of The Greater Chicago I-55 Truck Plaza, was just six years old, she stood on a milk crate to run the cash registers in her family’s grocery business. Today, she is using her expertise to help guide the family’s travel plaza, and she is sharing her insight to help the entire industry.
Puthusseril recently testified before Congress on behalf of NATSO and truckstop and travel plaza operators nationwide during a House Committee hearing titled Advanced Biofuels Under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
During the hearing, Puthusseril told lawmakers she has been incorporating advanced biofuels into her diesel fuel supply for more than ten years. “In addition to spending more than $500,000 to update my infrastructure, I spend approximately 70 percent of my time today managing this line of supply,” she said.
Puthusseril also told lawmakers that the Environmental Protection Agency’s policy of liberally granting small refinery hardship exemptions is under-cutting demand for advanced biofuels. “Unless Congress wants the market for advanced biofuels to decline precipitously, it is imperative that the EPA immediately reevaluate its criteria for issuing small refinery waivers,” she said.
Speaking on Capitol Hill was “an extreme honor and privilege,” and Puthusseril said it was a highlight in her career.
Puthusseril’s first experience in the travel plaza industry came in the mid-90s when her father, John Puthusseril, purchased the location, which was originally built in 1968 as a Union Oil truckstop and later became a National 76 truckstop franchise.
“I didn’t know much about the industry in 1995, but I used to go to work with my dad on all my school breaks and holidays because I loved hanging out with my dad and working with him,” she said, adding that she was more of a glorified, pro-bono secretary in those days.
After finishing college, working in Mexico and studying in Denmark, she joined the truckstop full time in 1999. “I felt it was important to learn the ins and outs of every department so I could understand the business and particularly relate to the employees,” she said.
After starting in the accounting department, Puthusseril made her way through every department. “I knew I needed to make changes to our truckstop upon arriving, but being 22 years old, fresh out of business school, a female and the daughter of the owner didn’t exactly gain respect from everyone,” she said.
However, her dad was always there reminding her that it was okay to make mistakes. “He also encouraged me constantly and reminded me that if he could come to this country with $7 dollars in his pocket in 1968 and overcome all the hate, prejudice, dishonesty and financial struggles that he experienced, then I could overcome all that and more with who and where I am,” Puthusseril said.
Today, Puthusseril enjoys working alongside her father and getting to know all of the people who make up the industry. “From the employees, vendors, customers, politicians and random people I meet on any day, they all have a story or connection that interests me and often times inspires me,” she said, adding that no two days are alike.
“A month ago I was in Poland learning about the Polish market and culture through NATSO because we want to better serve the central and eastern European clientele we currently have at our truckstop. A couple weeks later, I was in Washington, D.C. testifying before Congress on advanced biofuels. Today, I am stationary, physically at the truckstop and applying my experiences and actually running the business, which means doing all the non-glorious things that running a truckstop entails, too,” she said.
For women looking to enter or advance in the industry, Puthusseril suggests they learn as much as they can and be willing to ask questions. “Also, if you know who you are and where your strength comes from, then you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Let your actions speak for themselves,” she said.
Subscribe to Updates
NATSO provides a breadth of information created to strengthen travel plazas’ ability to meet the needs of the travelling public in an age of disruption. This includes knowledge filled blog posts, articles and publications. If you would like to receive a digest of blog post and articles directly in your inbox, please provide your name, email and the frequency of the updates you want to receive the email digest.