In-N-Out Burger: The Legendary Burger Family Business and its Troubled Heiress

By Khaenel [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Californians have long harboured a love for In-N-Out Burger, and if asked, will speak about the chain with the same reverence that is generally reserved for a close relative’s home cooking. It’s been 68 years since the first In-N-Out opened its doors in Baldwin Park, California, and since then, the company has grown to be worth an estimated $800 million (and possibly up to $1.1 billion). The Snyder family, beginning with founders Harry and Esther Snyder, have said that their success is primarily due to their commitment to simplicity, fresh ingredients, and good service toward customers and employees. In fact, it has been rumoured that some store managers make upwards of six figures. Unfortunately, the Snyder success story hasn’t been solely a happy one, and untimely deaths have left only one heir: Lynsi Snyder.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

After Harry Snyder died in 1976, and the company had grown to 18 stores, his youngest son, Richard (then, a mere 24 years old) took control of the company. Richard’s older brother, Guy, took his place in the company as a vice president. Richard served as president until 1993, when a Santa Ana plane crash took his life prematurely. The crash also took the life of Jack Sims, a childhood friend of Richard’s and his executive vice president. The company had grown to 60 locations under Richard’s leadership.

Guy took over the company by the end of 1993, and moved to petition his daughter, Lynsi Snyder as the sole successor in 1997. The Lynsi Snyder Trust held a 6.5% stake in In-N-Out, and was created with three trustees, including VP Richard Boyd. Lynsi, however, suffered tragedy almost immediately. Her father, Guy, passed away in December 1999 due to an accidental overdose of Hydrocodone, a prescription pain killer. Founder Harry’s wife Esther, who had seen the company from its birth to its present height, took over operation of the company alongside two trustees of Lynsi’s account: Richard Boyd and Mark Taylor.

Battle of the Trustees

Six years after Guy’s death, the company would face internal drama once again. This time, though, trustees Boyd and Taylor battled to retain control of the company. Boyd accused Lynsi of working with Taylor to remove him as a trustee. Whether the allegations proved true would remain unclear, since the internal argument was eventually settled outside of court. Boyd was removed from his trustee positions in 2006. Esther passed away less than a month after the settlement, leaving Taylor and Lynsi sole controllers of the company.

Lynsi and the Future of In-N-Out Burger

Lynsi Snyder is poised to inherit the entirety of the company (except for a mere 4%) on her 35th birthday. Currently, she is in control of half of the Esther Snyder Trust (which contains 44,147 shares, or 66.9%), half of her own trust, as well as the 15,811 shares (23.6%) she owns outright. Eventually, Lynsi will own 96% of the company, and already controls nearly 60%.

So, what are her plans? Much about her, and her family, is unknown. Lynsi has been married three times, but refuses to name her children. She has in past years admitted a love of drag car racing, but little else. Lynsi, who agreed to a rare interview with CBS in September 2015 following the opening of an In-N-Out in Oregon, stated that the family has always believed In-N-Out should be more about the company than them or their private wealth. She insists that she will never take the company public or franchise its restaurant, claiming that, “The only reason we would do that is for the money, and I wouldn’t do it.”

Perhaps Lynsi’s reasons for keeping to herself go deeper than a desire for privacy – she once admitted that she had been the victim of two attempted kidnappings. One, when she was 17, and the other as a 24-year-old manager at In-N-Out. Still, she remains positive. “It all helped mold me into who I am now,” she told an Orange Coast Interviewer.

Lynsi has been president since 2010, and under her guidance the company has breached into two new states – all while retaining their same, simple menu. She has described her leadership style as careful, “In the business world, I’m much more conservative, much more old-fashioned,” she says. “I’m not as much into taking risk. … On those personality tests, I come out as a choleric-sanguine, a combination of opposites: an organized, careful leader, but also fun-loving and free-spirited.” She has also cited a desire to make her family proud by retaining as much of the original business as possible.

Coming Full Circle

Lynsi’s strategy is remarkably like her grandparents, uncle and father, who focused on slow, careful expansion. The parent company has always retained control of the company bearing its name, and none of the restaurants lean on frozen patties or fries – which means each of them must be within 300 miles of a distribution center. This tactic is strategically opposite from competitors like McDonald’s, but Snyder insists this tactic is what has kept them in the game, and what will continue to prove successful.

“How we make our decisions is not looking to the right and left to see what everyone else is doing,” she said, in the same Orange Coast interview. “It’s just looking forward and doing the same thing that we’ve done in the past, because it has worked. We don’t have plans to change the menu. We don’t have plans to crank up the growth. It’s just kind of doing the same thing and being smart, and everybody doing their job. Like a plane on autopilot. There’s so much momentum, with all the people who’ve been here and have tenure. There’s so much strength, as a whole. So, we just keep on doing the same thing, and it runs pretty smoothly.”