An entrepreneur known for his business acumen and philanthropic spirit, E. Philip Saunders was instrumental in reshaping the travel center industry and has had business interests in fields as diverse as auto rental, recreation, and tourism, packaged foods, property management, and banking. Saunders has founded many companies, including Genesee Regional Bank, Griffith Energy, Truck Stops of America, Travel Centers of America, and Sugar Creek Corporation. He’s an owner of Countryside ALFC, and has ownership interests in Sugar Creek Farms, Western New York Energy, Cobblestone Capital, and American Rock Salt. Saunders earlier was the Executive Vice President and Director of Ryder Systems, Owner/CEO of Econo-car International, Owner/CEO of Richardson Foods Corporation, and Chairman of Valley Propane & Fuels.
Saunders serves as Chairman of Genesee Regional Bank. His rich history of board service includes current positions on numerous boards, including American Rock Salt, Cobblestone Capital, Lewis Tree, Royal Oaks Realty Trust, NYS Trooper Foundation, Western New York Energy, University of Rochester, and Rochester Institute of Technology, where the business school is named in his honor.
Saunders has been inducted into the Rochester Business Hall of Fame and received an honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science from Paul Smith’s College. He is the recipient of Camp Good Days and Special Times 1998 Teddi award, RIT's 2005 Herbert W. Vanden Brul Entrepreneurial Award and 2017 Volunteer of the Year Award. Phil is also recipient of Rochester Business Journal Icon award in 2018 and Rochester Power 100 in 2022. He is a member of the Livonia Central School Athletic Hall of Fame and the National Association of Travel Centers Hall of Fame. In May of 2023, E. Philip Saunders received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from RIT in recognition of his entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to the university.
1937 – Present
E. Philip Saunders was born in Rochester, NY to Earl and Helen Saunders. Earl Saunders started Independent Oil and Gas Co., a petroleum business which he later sold to Standard Oil Co. (Chevron), only retaining the truck stop.
1952 – 1955
Saunders attended Livonia Central School and participated in baseball, football, and basketball. His junior year, Saunders pitched a no-hitter and batted .489, which became a school record.
1956 – Present
Phil and his high school sweetheart, Carole, attended Livonia High School. After leaving Livonia, Saunders attended Hobart College while working two jobs; one as a night manager on the newly built New York State Thruway and the other as a farmhand in exchange for room and board.
1958 – Present
Saunders dropped out of school and began working at his father’s truck stop, eventually investing in the business and buying out the other two “silent” partners.
1965 – Present
Saunders built his first truck stop in Ashland, Va.
1966 – Present
Started Fleet Control Service (FCS), a type of charge card that truckers could use to streamline billing, prior to the widespread use of credit cards. Saunders also started Meat Dispatch, hauling meat from upstate to New York City and Henrietta Enterprises, which transported goods for Tropicana and Neisner Brothers, a five-and-dime store.
1971 – Present
Truckstops of America, Inc. sold to Ryder System; Saunders moved to Florida and became Vice President and General Manager of Ryder’s Fleet Services Division where he continued to add truck stop facilities. Saunders purchased a dairy farm in Dansville.
1975 – Present
Saunders returned to upstate New York where he and partner, William A. DeNight, purchased Econo-Car International from Westinghouse Electric Corp.
1977 – Present
Served as CEO until Econo-Car sold to Gelco, Inc.
1979 – Present
Purchased W. W. Griffith Oil Corporation; founded Travel Ports of America; built the first Roadway Motor Plaza, Inc. truck stop. Roadway Motor Plazas focused on the restaurant side of the business, accounting for 15% of the revenue at a truck stop. The focus was also placed on appealing to tourists, locals, and business travelers in addition to truckers.
1981 – Present
Sugar Creek Stores formed in November with the transition of service stations, in conjunction with gas stations, to retail. Richardson Food Corporation was purchased in May; the dessert topping and syrup producer in Macedon, NY benefited from Saunders’ expertise in distribution.
1986 – Present
Travel Ports of America completed their first initial public offering. Quaker Oats Company purchased Richardson Food Corporation, of which Saunders had been CEO since 1981.
1987 – Present
Sugar Creek Corporation formed in February as a holding company to coordinate the combined operations of Sugar Creek Stores and Griffith Oil. Roadway Motor Plazas, Inc. became a public company.
1995 – Present
Saunders, one of the original founding members of National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO), performed as acting Chairman, working to change the perception of truck stops to welcoming travel plazas. He helped to host a blood drive that collected over 4,000 pints of blood, making the trucking industry among the top five contributors for donating blood to the Red Cross.
1996 – Present
Genesee Regional Bank was founded by Saunders and Dan Gullace; originally Lyndon Guaranty Bank of New York, renamed to re-establish ties to the community as a new locally-owned business. The bank focused on helping to grow small businesses through an “old-school” banking model. The bank made the Democrat and Chronicle’s “Top Workplaces” list for the first time in 2015.
1998 – Present
Griffith Energy was sold to Energet!x, Inc., a subsidiary of Rochester Gas & Electric. American Rock Salt was founded in 1998 after Akzo salt mine assets were purchased by investors in 1997.
1999 – Present
Travel Ports of America sold to Travel Centers of America, Inc.
2000 – Present
Saunders founded Saunders Management; Sugar Creek Stores sold to Tops Markets Inc.; Saunders began serving as CEO at American Rock Salt, continuing to do so until 2003.
2001 – Present
The Saunders Family Neuromuscular Research Fund was founded at the University of Rochester.
2004 – Present
In 2002, Energy East Corp. acquired Griffith Energy in a buyout of RGS Energy Group Inc., parent company of Rochester Gas & Electric, and Energet!x. In 2004, Saunders helped purchase Griffith Energy from Energy East Corp. in order to save local jobs. Saunders was inducted to the Rochester Business Hall of Fame.
2005 – Present
Saunders received the RIT Herbert W. Vanden Brul Entrepreneurial Award in addition to the Livingston County Distinguished Citizen award.
2006 – Present
RIT College of Business named in Saunders’ honor; a scholarship fund was established.
2013 – Present
Saunders Energy Holdings LLC was founded, operating Valley Energy Services in 2015 and providing fuels to 10 counties. Genesee Regional Bank expanded its services by adding a mortgage department.
2016 – Present
10 year anniversary commemorating the naming of Saunders College of Business
Phil Saunders Oral History Interview (part 1), October 24, 2022 Video Transcript
Phil Saunders Oral History Interview (part 2), November 7, 2022 Video Transcript
Mr. Saunders’ first experience with RIT came when he was hiring for the evening and night shifts at his truck stop on Jefferson Road, not far from the university. He liked what he saw in the RIT students that had come to work for him, they were hardworking and mechanically inclined. Encouraged by RIT President, Albert Simone, Saunders got involved with the College of Business and in 2006 made a $13 million donation, one of the largest ever received by RIT. The college was renamed the E. Philip Saunders College of Business and the investment helped to reshape business education by funding endowed professorships, scholarships, and expanded facilities. Four years later, Saunders donated $5 million and in 2019, he announced a $7.5 million donation. These gifts help pave the way for future entrepreneurs and business leaders.
E. Philip Saunders Scholarship
A lifelong resident of Livingston County, NY, Mr. Saunders is a tireless promoter of the Upstate NY economy and believes strongly that an educated workforce is the key to economic growth in the region. As part of his commitment to RIT and to the naming of its College of Business, in July 2006, Mr. Saunders established the E. Philip Saunders Endowed Business Scholarship, providing two four-year academic scholarships annually, one each to a graduate of Dansville (NY) High School and of Livonia (NY) High School, who have been accepted to Saunders College of Business at RIT.
Eligibility for this scholarship will be based on the recipients’ graduation from Dansville High School or Livonia High School and their acceptance into Saunders College of Business at RIT. Candidates must demonstrate a record of academic achievement that indicates a strong potential for success in a selective educational environment. They should be well-rounded students involved in extracurricular and/or work-related activities while in high school. Also, they should demonstrate strong leadership potential or business skills and aspire to become business leaders.
Candidates will be asked to authorize the release of the application and ongoing performance information to the scholarship selection committee. That committee will consist of at least one representative from the RIT Enrollment Management and Career Services Division and one representative from the Saunders Foundation. Financial need may be a factor in consideration but is not a requirement. All qualified candidates will be encouraged to apply. The scholarship is renewable annually for up to four years, provided the recipients enroll full-time, maintain a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of at least 2.5, and remain enrolled in the RIT Saunders College of Business. In the event that circumstances arise forcing a student to enroll for an additional term to meet academic requirements, the administrators of the fund may be able to support those additional needs.