Diverse perspectives on leadership

By As told to Patricia Olsen

Lisa Ingram, President and CEO of White Castle, shares her thoughts on what it takes to lead

Generation of family ownership: Fourth.

Revenue: $840 million.

Number of employees: Just over 10,000.

First job at this company: Marketing intern.

At what age?

17, the summer of my junior year of high school. I worked in the computer industry when I graduated from college and then came back to White Castle as regional marketing manager in 1997.

Most memorable thing I learned from my father: It never hurts to try new things. He was always very big at letting us do this, even things we had done in the past. When you've been around for 100 years, it's likely you’ve tried some things that didn't work. When I would suggest an idea we had done 10 or 20 years before, he would still let me try it because maybe this time it would be different.

Our greatest success: My father getting us into the retail business. We worked with our team members and suppliers to produce our product with our regular cooking method and secure a place in grocery stores. This gave us nationwide distribution through this channel rather than needing to have restaurants nationwide.

Best advice I ever got: You may not be able to control every situation, but you can certainly control your response to it. I’ve followed that a lot, both in business and in parenting.

One of my greatest accomplishments: Bringing diversity to the company, not only relating to gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, but also diversity of thought and experience. We already had a company with a lot of leaders that grew up in the company and contribute greatly to our success. I’ve also brought in leaders from outside who bring us different ideas while respecting our culture and people. We’ve been able to achieve a range of successes because we have various people looking at situations from diverse perspectives.

Advice for other family business leaders: We’ve gotten tremendous benefits from bringing outsiders into the company, both as team members and for our board of directors. Our board has two family members and five independent directors. We’ve also had a family business adviser working with our family and the company for two decades who has been a wonderful asset.

I realized I had emerged from the previous generation’s shadow when… My father was very good at making sure everyone went to me instead of him when I transitioned to president. He is a great example of how to do successful transitions from one generation to the next. 

Philanthropic causes our family supports: Some are LifeCare Alliance, which provides health and nutrition services that keep people safe, independent and living in their own homes in central Ohio; Autism Speaks; United Way and many local charities that do great work in each city we’re in. 

Concepts I live by: Every day I try to assume positive intent. Some days it’s easier than others, but if you look at a situation and start by assuming positive intent in all angles, you can potentially view it very differently. That might allow you to look at it more clearly and come to a more positive solution.



Article categories: 
Audio Sound Duration: 
November/December 2022

Other Related Articles

  • Hey, leaders: Take risks

    ... but always trust your team.

  • Focus on people first

    Leadership is more than a seat at the head of the table. It's about inspiring greatness, according to Heather Falcone, CEO, Thermal-Vac Technology in Orange, Calif.Generation of family ownership: Seco...