Lynsi Torres: Not your average billionaire

Imagine for a moment a billionaire racecar driver and president of a wildly successful American burger chain. What image comes to mind? A guy, no doubt. Middle-aged. Probably a jet-setting playboy type? What if we said such a person does exist and in fact, she is a 30-year old, church-going, married mother of four…?

Surprised? The heiress and president of In-N-Out Burger, Lynsi Torres has only recently popped up on global rich lists, when it was discovered that as of last year, she controls 50% of In-N-Out’s privately-held shares and will inherit the other half upon her 35th birthday.

Because In-N-Out is a private company, its finances are not disclosed, but analysts have compared it to industry peers, examined its sales figures and growth rate, and have estimated its value at anywhere between $800 million and $1.1 billion. Ms. Torres herself avoids media interviews, making her a rare mystery among the ranks of the super-rich.

Rough road to riches

Living the rich life is not always the glamourous and blissful existence we imagine. The path that led to Ms. Torres’ wealth and position has not been a particularly happy one.

The burger chain was founded by Ms. Torres’ grandparents, Esther and Harold Snyder. Harry was born in 1913 in Vancouver. In 1947, while working at a burger stand in Seattle, he met his future wife, Esther. Within a year, the couple had married, moved to California and opened a burger drive-in, the first In-N-Out Burger. They also had two sons, Harold “Guy” Snyder (Lynsi’s father) and Rich Snyder.

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The Snyders’ small business was a success and it grew into a small chain of restaurants. Harry and Esther focused on modest growth, fresh ingredients (no microwaves or freezers) and paying their employees above-average wages.

Twenty-eight years into the business, Harry Snyder died of cancer. He was 63 and his granddaughter Lynsi was not even born yet. Harry’s younger son Rich, who was then 24 years old, took over the helm of the company. Older brother Guy worked as a Vice-President. Rich ran the company for 17 years, expanding the chain from 18 restaurants to 93 and quietly adding the now famous bible verses in subtle print to the bottom of beverage cups and burger wrappers. Tragically, Rich died in a plane crash in 1993 when he was just 41. He had no children.

Lynsi’s father, Guy Snyder (from whom she inherited her love of fast cars!), then took over as company president. Guy continued to expand the company to 140 restaurants within six years. Unfortunately, more sadness befell the family in 1999, when Guy died due to a prescription drug overdose. Guy’s mother, Esther, then took over the leadership of the business, supported by her second-in-command executive, Mark Taylor.

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Divorced from his wife, Guy’s share of the family company went into trust for his only child, then 17-year old Lynsi. Esther died in 2006 and since Lynsi was now the family’s sole living heir, she inherited Esther’s trust as well. Lynsi received access to a portion of the shares when she turned 25, half the wealth when she turned 30 (which occurred in May 2012), and she will receive the balance when she turns 35.

With so much loss at an early age, perhaps it should be no surprise that Lynsi’s personal life has been complicated. Growing up on a ranch in California, her parents divorced when she was 14. A year after her father died, when she was only 18, she married her high school sweetheart, Jeremiah Seawell. The marriage lasted two years. In 2004, at the age of 22, she married again, to an In-N-Out colleague, Richard Martinez. With Mr. Martinez, Lynsi gave birth to twins, Ella and Silas; however, the couple divorced in 2011. Later that same year, Lynsi married for a third time – to racecar driver Val Torres, Jr. Through Mr. Torres, she has two stepdaughters, Madelyn and Kaitlyn.

In the meantime, Lynsi has developed a passion for racing cars (she has raced competitively for 12 years) and is an active philanthropist. She funded a not-for-profit organization called Healing Hearts & Nations that provides counseling, support and Christian ministry to poverty-stricken communities in Africa and India.

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The empire lives on

Despite all the turbulence and family losses, In-N-Out Burger has thrived. With 280 locations in five US states, the burger chain has not only a loyal cult following, but a high-profile celebrity following as well. Beyonce, Jay Leno, Gordon Ramsay… even Julia Child was said to have been a devotee.

When Lynsi gains full control over her family fortune, she will have some big decisions to make. Will she continue to spend her life running her grandparents’ business and pass it on to her twins? Or will she sell out to one of the many potential investors who are salivating at the thought of owning a piece of this highly successful brand? We know Warren Buffett is one of those potential buyers – the Oracle of Omaha has gone on record saying he’d love to own In-N-Out, which perhaps explains his recent acquisition of Heinz (HNZ) ketchup? One can’t be too ready.

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