Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs | May 2017

What Inspires White Castle CEO Lisa Ingram

"The Slider Queen" shares how growing up in the business affected her leadership style.
Lisa Ingram, CEO, White Castle. White Castle / Photo by georgecanderson.com
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Being part of the White Castle family, there were lots of visits to Castles growing up, so I enjoyed doing that with my father and grandfather. I worked in the tech industry, but when a job opened at White Castle, I decided to try my hand at the family business. Later I left to get my MBA in operations—which is the heart and soul of any restaurant company—and came back. I feel very fortunate to have been here now for 16 years.

My father, who officially retired at the end of 2015, was really good at setting the company and me up for a very successful transition. When I came back after getting my MBA, I didn’t have the behind-the-scenes experience. So for two or three years, I would work every Friday in one of the Castles to learn how to make the burgers and serve customers. Every May during National Hamburger month, we have our team members at the home office work in one of our restaurants or manufacturing plants. It allows them to get closer to the customer and interact with the team members on the frontlines.

Over the last 10 years we have focused on product development. We can still honor the Original Slider, but also enhance it with other great-tasting sliders: a Savory Grilled Chicken Slider; a Veggie Slider; and a limited-time Butterball Turkey Slider. If you love White Castle hamburgers, that’s great, we will always have those, but we also have these other amazing sliders.

The quick-serve segment is going through a transformation and adapting to consumer trends. How can quick service take the things that make us really impactful—the fact that we have lots of locations and we’re quick—and deliver a great-quality product and variety? That’s what we’ve been working on at White Castle.

There have been a lot of people that have called me “The Slider Queen,” and I love it. I have really enjoyed being part of it and honoring the tradition that has been built over the last three generations, but also creating new traditions in the fourth generation and beyond for this iconic, almost 100-year-old American brand.


What’s your favorite menu item at White Castle?

The Double Cheese Slider bottoms-up, which means you take the bottom buns and you make them a double cheeseburger.

What’s your favorite restaurant or type of food, excluding White Castle?

Sushi.

What are some of your interests outside of the business?

I am a runner, so I’ve run one marathon, but I’ve run eight halves. That’s how I relieve stress. I also enjoy hiking and taking pictures. I spend a lot of my free time with my four children and my husband.

Who has inspired you as a leader?

My father. There are so many stories of family businesses that have blown up because of infighting, and my father has been a model for how to sustain family businesses. He doesn’t seek the limelight, and he’s taught me so many things about patience and trying new things.

What is the best piece of advice you think quick-service executives should hear?

Assume positive intent. There are so many situations where if you just assume positive intent, it changes the whole outlook.