Building White Castle: What It Takes to Run a Family Business with Lisa Ingram

Lisa Ingram is the President and CEO of White Castle, the iconic Columbus-based burger chain founded 100 years ago, and now, with 377 locations across 13 states. She’s been at the company for over two decades, although her tenure was split to allow her the opportunity to experience work elsewhere – a fascinating hiring concept applied to all interested family members.

Lisa’s great grandfather, Billy Ingram, co-founded White Castle over a century ago and the brand is still going strong. In 2014, Time magazine named the White Castle slider as the most influential burger of all time. They pride themselves on being a family business. But, just because you’re part of the family doesn’t mean this is the right job for you. We talk about how they knit family into the fabric of the company, and when the two are separated for the good of all involved.

As part of that process, Lisa spent time working for a variety of companies outside of the famous burger chain, and remains heavily involved in the local community to this day, holding a seat on multiple local advisory boards among other things. 

Our conversation starts with her upbringing, experiencing the divorce of her parents and digging into what drew her toward cheerleading from a young age. Then, we get into the pros and cons of working with family. It’s not as easy, or as hard, as you might expect from watching TV’s family business dramas.

We also touch on how to juggle multiple priorities and responsibilities while honing in on what’s important and, ultimately, what will make you happy. In some ways, it all comes back to Lisa’s love of cheerleading, growing up. She saw value in it as a sport and those skills have served her well to this day.

Listen to hear everything from the inner workings of a classic fast food restaurant through to valuable lessons you can take and apply to your own life.

What Brett asks:

  • [02:10] Let’s start at the very beginning. Tell us about your childhood.
  • [06:05] How did your parents’ divorce shape you?
  • [11:10] Why did cheerleading stick as a childhood hobby?
  • [13:40] How much of being an introvert is down to nurture vs nature for you?
  • [22:40] How have you found working with family?
  • [34:10] How long have you been in your current role?
  • [40:15] Will you put together a succession plan for the generation after you?
  • [42:00] What’s the biggest challenge with juggling motherhood, your involvement in the community, and work?
  • [46:50] How do you manage self-care through exercise? 
  • [50:00] Any final thoughts?

Lessons for intentional living:

  • Lisa sees cheerleading as a sport, an extremely physical one, at that. Even more, it armed her with skills that she’s taken straight into her current role as CEO of White Castle. It’s a reminder that just because other people can’t see something that we do, it doesn’t make them right. Value is a subjective term. What has value to you, is valuable to you. Period.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to step into a role at a family business, it’s something you should only commit to after experiencing what else the world has to offer you in terms of employment. Joining a family business just because it’s what’s expected of you or because it’s the easier path is a recipe for unhappiness and a lack of fulfilment long-term.