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Late President's Mother Takes In-N-Out Reins : Fast food: Co-founder Esther Snyder keeps control of privately held company in family hands after son's death in plane crash. His brother is named chairman and his widow joins the board. Move to Irvine not affected.

January 07, 1994|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BALDWIN PARK — In-N-Out Burger Co. co-founder Esther Snyder has taken over as president of the family-owned fast-food company following the death of her son, Richard A. Snyder, in a Dec. 15 plane crash.

Guy Snyder, a company vice president and Esther Snyder's older son, has been chosen for the new position of chairman, and Christina Snyder, Richard's widow, has joined the privately held company's board of directors.

Richard Snyder, 41, president of the burger chain since 1976, died along with Executive Vice President Philip R. West, 37, and Jack Sims, a Placentia public relations executive, when their chartered corporate jet crashed near Santa Ana Auto Mall. Pilots Stephen R. Barkin, 46, and John O. McDaniel, 49, were also killed when the jet went out of control apparently after encountering turbulence generated by a Boeing 757 that was landing at John Wayne Airport.

Snyder family members and officials at the close-knit company have declined requests for interviews. "We will still be a family-owned and -operated company, and we will continue to respect the privacy of the family," In-N-Out Vice President Carl Van Fleet said this week.

Friends and business associates said it wasn't surprising that the Snyders chose to keep in the family's hands the day-to-day management of In-N-Out Burger, which Esther Snyder and her husband, Harry, founded in 1948 in Baldwin Park.

Harry Snyder died in 1976. Despite health problems, Esther Snyder has remained active at the company, most recently as secretary and treasurer.

"Esther still works in the company's restaurants on a regular basis," said real estate agent Sally Anne Sheridan, a former Irvine mayor who became acquainted with several In-N-Out executives while helping to lure the burger chain's corporate headquarters to Irvine. "She's a real hands-on lady . . . very, very sharp."

In-N-Out, which hopes to complete its move to Irvine from Baldwin Park in February, has 93 restaurants, most of them in Southern California, and about 2,500 employees. Company executives told employees earlier this week that In-N-Out will stick to the Snyders' slow-growth strategy. The family in the past has rejected offers to sell out or make a public stock offering, electing instead to expand cautiously without taking on debt or selling franchises.

"They could have put the company up for sale, made it a public company or sold it to the employees," Sheridan said. "But they've evidently told the store managers that they'll continue as a family business and try to fulfill everything Rich set out to do."

The management changes evidently will give Guy Snyder a bigger role. Family friends said that he and his younger brother often were at odds but were in agreement on Richard having a dominant role in the business.

While Richard concentrated on running the company, Guy moved to a ranch in Northern California and raced automobiles. During a humorous and touching eulogy at his younger brother's memorial service last month, Guy acknowledged the pair's sometimes troubled but loving relationship, including Richard's reticence to fund the automobile racing.

"Richie and I sometimes couldn't even sit down and talk about things," Guy told 2,000 mourners during the ceremony at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa in Santa Ana. "(But) Rich always stuck up for me. I always did everything first. Richie always supported me. This one time, Richie went first. What happened has changed a lot of people's lives."

Snyder also hinted then that he might be playing a bigger part at the company: "We just have to keep taking that step forward. . . . If I can follow in his footsteps, I will be the happiest person in the world."

It was uncertain this week what role Christina Snyder will have. The Snyders were married in the spring of 1992 and lived in Newport Beach.

Times staff writer Jodi Wilgoren contributed to this report.

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