Meet CEO Of Whisps: Ilana Fischer

Cheese is in Ilana Fischer’s blood. The CEO of Whisps, an airy crispy and cheese snack, recalls moments of childhood where cheese was part of her everyday meal.

What started as an obsession has now become Ilana's livelihood. The popular snack crisps are now sold in 50,000 retail outlets across the country. And most recently, about half a million bags have been sent to front-line healthcare workers fighting the pandemic.

While Whisps continues to expand, Ilana found that the most important lesson with starting your own company is how you define the CEO role.

“It felt like you needed to do these five things to be a CEO. Go to business school, work in consulting, get a job at a large company. There was this narrative for how your life should be to achieve success.”

Cheesin’ Since The Beginning

The CEO of Whisps described how her love of cheese was planted even before she was born. Her grandparents, who were born and raised in Italy, regularly indulged in cheese. It was a staple piece in the home.

“My mom's family is Italian-American, so we always had Parmesan cheese at our house. My grandparents would always have imported Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy in their house.”

Throughout her childhood, her passion for food grew. And while Ilana loved how food brought people together, she especially loved how it helped her discover her identity.

“I love food. And I have always been like most excited and most passionate about cheese. It’s in my genes. My mom's grandmother is from Parma, Italy, which is where they make Parmesan. So, I am 1/8 Parmesan.”

It’s no secret that this cheese obsession led Ilana to Whisps. She wanted to create a similar experience for people around the world — finding yourself through food. That’s what she did.

However, as Whisps grew, Ilana found that one of her obstacles was maintaining her authentic self while stepping into a CEO role.

“I didn’t let this story dominate my career. I stopped being like, ‘I have to do this for two years, then I need to do that for two years.’"

Breaking The Status Quo

Fast forward to when Ilana was transitioning into her CEO role. One thing that she noticed was there was a linear path when it came to this leadership position.

“It felt like you needed to do these five things to be a CEO. Go to business school, work in consulting, get a job at a large company. There was this narrative for how your life should be to achieve success.”

And for Ilana, she felt that this path limited her growth and confined her into this box. Instead of following the traditional route she took a leap of faith and started Whisps.

“I didn’t let this story dominate my career. I stopped being like, ‘I have to do this for two years, then I need to do that for two years.’ I'm talking about eight to 10 years before I do the thing I want to do.”

Ilana knew this wasn’t the only narrative. There were other ways around the formal corporate structure. And to be clear: Ilana’s not dissing the traditional route. In fact, at the beginning of her career, she found that climbing the ladder helped her develop the skills she needed to become a CEO.

“I learned a lot. I benefited from it, and I've worked with a lot of people who are inspirational leaders and professionals that have gone down those paths.”

It’s transitioning into this role that led Ilana to learn and receive some of the best feedback of her career. And it’s the feedback that’s changed her career for the better.

“A number of people have told me to be who you are authentically, and then work can adjust around it. ”

Life-Changing Feedback

Like many people stepping into a leadership role for the first, you’re bound to run into obstacles. For Ilana, she grappled with the idea of being a CEO and letting her true personality shine.

“A number of people have told me to be who you are authentically, and then work can adjust around it. I have a whole bunch of personality traits that make being a CEO hard for me.”

Ilana realized that when she would only tap into certain parts of her characteristics to make decisions, it would led to a “snowball of a mess.”

“Every time I try to pretend I'm somebody I'm not like, that's when I stumble and make stupid decisions.”

This internal conflict not only impacted Ilana, but how she approached decisions in the company. Eventually, the CEO realized that rather than trying to separate those personality traits that made her who she is, Ilana found the balance between both sides of her identity.

All and all, being CEO of Whisps, Ilana’s learned how many CEO and many other professionals have their good and not-so-good moments. No one is perfect, but it’s those difficult times that help us discover us our parts unknown.

The Takeaways

Balance your gut with research. “This seems too good to be true, therefore, it’s probably too good to be true.” For Ilana, she advises other professionals to question their intuition and gut. While you should listen to that inner voice, it can’t be the only source of truth. That’s where doing your research comes in. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be responsive to your gut feeling. Work on gaining confidence with your inner voice and research.

Helping others find their superpowers. “You on the team are good at these few things, so I’m going to focus you on these areas. As opposed to focusing you on these tasks that you aren’t so good at.” Ilana wants to empower her teammates and help them feel confident in their roles. By placing them on projects that they can excel at, she knows that will only boost their confidence.

Celebrate the small wins. “Call out people for the extra work they do or when they offer a helping hand.” It was clear that Ilana cherishes her team. Creating a positive working environment, it’s about recognizing people’s efforts no matter how big or small. While there are big-picture goals, small wins are just as monumental.

Get To Know Ilana

At the end of every interview series, we ask our guests a series of rapid-fire questions to get to know them better as a leader. Their quirks and habits have led them to where they are today.

Q: What are you currently obsessed with?
A: The podcast I’m listening to now is My Favorite Murder

Q: Who are three leaders you look up to?
A: Mindy Kaling, Tony Shay, Michelle Obama

Q: What’s your favorite flavor of cheese?
A: Parmesan

Q: Night owl or early bird?
A: Early bird

Q: Advice for your younger self?
A: Don’t let other people tell you what your story has to look like.

Q: If you could become an expert at anything right now, what would it be?
A: Global vaccine distribution.

Conversation Starters

Now’s Your Turn

Asking for positive or constructive feedback isn't cheesy at all. It's powerful and essential to your growth.

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Cover Photo: Ilana Fischer


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