Why In-N-Out Burger leadership rivals tech, AI companies in new report


In-N-Out Burger has a devoted following of fans and customers — and a top 10 spot on Glassdoor’s inaugural Best-Led Companies list, next to computer chip makers and artificial intelligence businesses like Nvidia and Databricks.

The new ranking doesn’t surprise LaShawn Davis, a leadership and workplace culture expert who founded and runs consulting firm The HR Plug. Davis has worked in human resources for more than a decade, and says it’s clear why In-N-Out Burger rivals those tech companies when it comes to leadership and culture.

“It starts with the CEO,” Davis tells CNBC Make It. “They shape what the culture is. It definitely does trickle down throughout the organization.”

In-N-Out’s CEO is Linsi Snyder, 42, who took over her family’s business at age 27 after a series of family deaths. She started out as a cashier, waiting in a two-hour line to snag a summer job at a Redding, California, location, Snyder told NBC’s “Today” last month.

 “I think that there’s a stigma that can come with being the owner’s kid,” said Snyder. “I just wanted to be respected like others, doing it the right way and not having the special treatment.”

Lynsi Snyder, formerly Lynsi Torres, the owner and president of the In-N-Out Burger restaurant chain, stands for a photograph with her trophy after winning the National Hot Rod Association’s Lucas Oil Drag Racing

Bob Johnson

In her early days as president, she felt the pressure to be a typical buttoned-up, reserved boss — but quickly found that being authentic was more beneficial for herself and the company, she said. She traded in her blazers for tank tops and athleisure and ran the company with a people-first attitude, even in the face of inflation.

Snyder’s equity in the fast food chain helped her become a billionaire in 2017, and her estimated net worth has grown since then, according to Forbes — up to $6.7 billion.

“I was sitting in VP meetings going toe-to-toe saying, ‘We can’t raise the price that much,’ because I felt such an obligation to look out for our customers. When everyone else was taking these jumps, we weren’t,” she told “Today.”

What In-N-Out employees say

In-N-Out placed ninth on Glassdoor’s Best Led Companies list, which reviewed ratings and reviews of CEO and senior management approval, and sixth on its most recent Best Places to Work list. Anonymous employee reviews cited great pay, people, perks and benefits as reasons they enjoyed working there.

“They pay well, they offer above average and benefits for the fast-food industry and I think that really helps them stand out in the industry,” Daniel Zhao, a lead economist at Glassdoor, tells Make It. “And that decision comes from the top.”

Ninety-two percent of employees who’ve submitted Glassdoor reviews approve of the CEO, the website says. “I was never bored and the pay was very good for the work being done,” reads one review. “Flexible hours and ability to transfer to other stores is a plus,” notes another.

Good pay, flexible hours and career opportunities are important job traits for a lot of people, including fast-food employees, says Zhao.

“In addition to the strong paying benefits that they offer, they also have an emphasis on career opportunities in terms of making sure that folks can move up within the company,” he says. “So it’s not that working at In-N-Out is just a job. I think they try to encourage people to view it more as a career.”

‘Don’t underestimate the power of humanity’

Other industries should take a page out of In-N-Out’s book, says Davis. There are usually 10 employees in the storefront, almost double than what Davis sees at rival fast food chains, and everyone is doing their part to ensure no one person is overworked, she says.

“It’s a sign that the company actually cares about what the worker has to endure when they’re here,” says Davis. “Workplace culture means taking care of the people you depend on. And in tech companies, sometimes you’re depending more on the tech, not the people. In-N-Out is still relying on people.”

The tech and retail industries in particular have been riddled by layoffs and pay cuts over the past year, with some workers finding out their fate through curt emails or abrupt Slack messages. Strict return-to-office mandates across multiple sectors are leaving a bad taste in some employees’ mouths. 

Davis recommends business leaders tap into soft skills like empathy, understanding and authenticity — so that when they need to make tough decisions, they can communicate them effectively without frustrating employees.

“If companies really take the time to leverage their dollars wisely, investing in the things that matter to the people — not that matter to the company’s reputation — it proves to be valuable for everyone overall,” Davis says.

“Don’t underestimate the power of humanity and emotion that’s necessary in the workplace,” she adds.

Disclosure: NBC and CNBC are divisions of NBCUniversal.

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