This month, Lisa Ingram wraps up her inaugural year as CEO of White Castle. Ingram's father, Bill, and other third-generation leaders spent the last five years preparing to hand the family burger business over to the fourth.

This month, Lisa Ingram wraps up her inaugural year as CEO of White Castle. Ingram's father, Bill, and other third-generation leaders spent the last five years preparing to hand the family burger business over to the fourth.

"I think my father-and really the whole third generation-has done a great job of setting up the company and myself for this transition," says Ingram. She works alongside eight of her cousins and siblings.

Her job hasn't changed much, says Ingram. Still, the transition itself stretched her as a leader.

"One thing I thought a lot about, but I don't think you can ever prepare for until you're actually in the role, is filing the shoes of the person who was there before you," she says. Her father was in the position for 40 years. And Bill Ingram left some very big shoes to fill.

Some White Castle staff have worked for the company for 10, 20, even 40 years. A staggering 98.6 percent of White Castle's 450 employees in general management roles or higher worked their way up from behind White Castle counters.

"There are a lot of people who love him and remember him and grew up under his leadership," says Ingram of her father, a fact she's proud of and challenged by. "To now be in that role, it's something you spend a lot of time thinking about and preparing for."

Working with White Castle employees is her favorite part of the job. Loyal staff are as passionate about the iconic American brand as the Ingram family.

A tenet of Ingram's leadership is enabling employees to have full lives beyond White Castle. That they have the "time and permission to enjoy their time outside of work," as Ingram puts it, matters to her.

"That's definitely something I think I've brought to the table that's been more of a focus than maybe it has in the past-looking at the whole person and what they bring to the table, not just to White Castle."

When people are able to lead full, engaged lives, that's when they're at their best in the workplace, Ingram believes. She's building a culture of "positive intent" from the executive offices to the kitchens. To Ingram, that means looking for the positives in day-to-day operations.

In weekly meetings, she asks her executive team to share "little wins" from the past week. As CEO, she wants White Castle leaders to encourage employees at all levels to recognize peers' "moments of excellence."

"In some areas of the company, we were better at recognizing people's uniqueness than other areas of the company. We've tried to be more thoughtful in expanding that across all areas of the company," says Ingram. "Everybody in the company (should) feel they're a valuable part of the family and a valued part of White Castle."

Her own drive for excellence comes down to a core belief: Great leaders never stop learning.

"I really don't want to be the smartest person in the room," says Ingram. "I want people challenging me in how they think and feel."

She advises every executive to surround themselves with people who complement their own skills and abilities. To that end, she broke with a 95-year company tradition. Ingram recruited two executives from outside White Castle to join her leadership team-a VP of operations and a VP of administration.

"I think having a mix of people from inside White Castle and outside leads to a diversity of thought," says Ingram. "We also strive for different perspectives to make sure we'll be around the next 95 years."

As its chief steward, she is mightily protective of the White Castle brand. White Castle's signature Sliders, kitschy buildings, longevity and once-limited distribution have earned it unparalleled recognition for a regional brand. During her last seven or so years at the company, understanding why White Castle generates such devotion from customers has been a central strategic focus.

"As a family member, I have a tremendous amount of passion for the brand. I want it to be a part of my family's legacy. I also feel I have a good sense of why customers are passionate," says Ingram.

In 2016, White Castle introduced a number of new menu items. The company opened restaurants in Las Vegas, where odds are 2 a.m. Sliders will be a winner. Ingram doesn't gamble with the "Craver Nation." Every move she makes is deliberate, informed by trusted advisors and generations of institutional knowledge.

"My legacy," Ingram says, "will be told inthe next 10 to 20 years."

Kitty McConnell French is a freelance writer.

Finalist: Nick Akins, president, CEO & Chairman, AmericanElectric Power

Nick Akins is captaining American Electric Power as it works to build a smarter energy grid, generate cleaner energy and provide customers with technologies to give them greater control over energy usage.

AEP owns the country's largest electricity transmission network and is one of the largest generators of electricity, providing power to about 5.4 million customers in 11 states, including nearly 1.5 million Ohioans.

AEP, which employs about 17,600 people and saw operating earnings of $1.8 billion in 2015, played a significant role in Columbus' victory in the US Department of Transportation and Vulcan Inc. Smart City Challenge, with Vulcan praisingthe company's transition to electric vehicles for its corporate fleet, electric charging stations for cars and its commitment to moving to cleaner energy generation.

Akins has been AEP president since December 2010, CEO since November 2011 and chairman since January 2014. In addition to his career in the energy sector, including holding industry board positions, Akins is on the boards of Fifth Third Bancorp, OhioHealth and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum.

A member of the Ohio Business Roundtable and the executive committee of the Columbus Partnership, Akins co-chaired a $10 million YWCA campaign in 2014-2015 with his wife, Donna, and led the United Way of Central Ohio campaign last year.

Finalist: Tanny Crane, president & CEO, Crane Group

Tanny Crane, Crane Group president and CEO, is the third generation of Cranes to run the business started by her grandfather Robert S. Crane in 1947.

Then a small plastics manufacturing company, the organization now known as Crane Group has operating units that are primarily involved in making and distributing building products. Those units are Crane Materials Int., Crane Renovation Group, Pet Paradise, Sensit Technologies and Screen Machine Industries.

Tanny Crane joined the business, now in its fourth generation of family involvement, in 1987, and was named to her current role in 2003. As president and CEO, she provides Crane Group with strategic direction and leadership development, supporting its "people-first" culture and open-door policy.

In addition to her work at the family business, Crane serves on several boards, including those of Huntington Bancshares, Columbus Partnership and Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business Advisory Board. She's also board chair for the Reeb Avenue Center, a South Side home for nonprofit groups supported in part by a $1 million gift from the Crane Group and Crane family.

Finalist: Thomas Feeney, President & CEO, Safelite Group

Twenty-eight years into his tenure at Safelite Group-the last eight as president and CEO-Thomas Feeney is shepherding the auto glass and claims management company to unprecedented growth.

This year, as in 2015, Safelite is on track to report record-setting sales. About 13,000 associates are currently employed at Safelite, a number expected to go up in part thanks to a call center opening next year in New Mexico. Feeney introduced a "People Powered, Customer Driven" vision for Safelite. It's taken off: Business has more than doubled in the time since.

This year, the company introduced a purpose statement, to bring "unexpected happiness to people's everyday lives." To that end, Safelite is providing improved digital services to customers and insurers. Through its business units, Safelite expects to serve more than 10 million customers by year's end.

Feeney was American Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year in 2015 and is president emeritus of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio board of directors.