Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Tragic Story of a Great In-N-Out Burger

Photo of IN-N-OUT BURGER's outdoor sign as visible from a highway exit
The Sign
IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY, TRY AN IN-N-OUT BURGER ASAP. YOU WILL LOVE IT. Unfortunately, In-N-Out Burger, the book by Stacy Perman, is not quite as tasty.
I very much looked forward to reading about this company. As the purveyors of fantastic and savory burgers, I was hoping to find a few great lessons from the narrative of the business story behind the company. Instead, I found a terrible tail that started with laborious stubbornness and ended with pure greed. I was probably better off not finding out.
While the big fast food names were being built, In-N-Out Burger refused to grow. The author claims that this was due to some ethereal commitment to quality. To someone like myself, a professional who believes that growth from such minuscule market share does not have to be tainted by poor quality, it looks as if the founders were incompetent at managing their dilemma. After all, today they are much bigger than they originally were; all while still keeping product quality robust. The same could have been achieved much sooner, had they been either more ambitious or smarter. After all, they were neither the first, nor the last managers to face a growth constraint.
I am not saying that, as a society, we need another large fast food restaurant. What I am saying is that we need one of much better quality than the others. In a way, In-N-Out Burger let their fans down due to poor leadership.
beauty shot of the In-N-Out Burger Book by author Stacey Perman
In-N-Out Burger by Stacy Perman
The author also demonstrated her lack of business acumen as she tried to hype the company's story. At one point, Stacy Perman clarified that founder Harry Snyder was a micromanager before anyone knew what the word meant. Just a few paragraphs later, she described how he too was great at empowering employees. Unfortunately, this is not what micromanagers do. By using the micromanager description she was attempting to depict a leader with passion and confidence. But such managers micromanage because they second guess everybody else's decisions. They feel to be the only ones who have any sort of knowledge or understanding of business. Thus, employees end up having to double check every decision they make to safeguard their head. Rather than being empowered, these employees are terrified by a larger than life tyrant; which is not uncommon in family owned businesses.
At another point of the narration, the author tries to suggest that the company had a culture of hard work and simplicity which were reflected in the stores. Yet, Rich Snyder, the founder's son and company president after 1976, turned their headquarters into an overstated expression of luxury. Sorry but there was no Wal-Mart story of austere headquarters here.
Photo of a DoubleDouble In-N-Out Burger over the company's red serving tray and next to french fries
A DoubleDouble
Finally, the book fails by getting stuck with the usual platitudes about what's generally claimed as the essential ingredients that make a business good.
While it is a great recollection of the beginning of Californian suburbia and the start of those American icons like the NHRA and the many fast food restaurants from the time, it is of very little added value to any business leader.
Besides, even the author struggled to match the tragic family infighting lead by Burger Princes Lynsi Torres that occurred at the end of the book with the rosy picture she was portraying at the beginning. This was not a good business book. Stick to their burgers.

Book Title: In-N-Out Burger
Book Subtitle: A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain That Breaks All the Rules
Author: Stacy Perman
Publisher: HarperBusiness
ISBN: 978-0061346729

No comments:

Post a Comment