DineEquity CEO and Chairwoman Julia Stewart
DineEquity CEO and Chairwoman Julia Stewart - 

Julia Stewart

As a 16-year-old high-schooler waiting tables at IHOP, Julia Stewart never thought that one day she would run the chain of restaurants. In a few decades' time, she would be doing exactly that.

As the CEO, Stewart breathed new life into the beleaguered chain. One strategy she employed was selling IHOP restaurants to franchisees, which upped the company's free cash flow.

Other, smaller changes she instituted include selling orange juice not made from concentrate, introducing new menu items like cream-cheese stuffed French toast, and introducing better coffee. As a result, the Glendale, Calif.-based company reported $45 million in profits in 2006, and its stock price has as much as doubled since Stewart took the reins.

In 2001, IHOP announced its acquisition of Applebee's International Inc. The product of the buyout is DineEquity Inc., which runs over 3,300 Applebee's and IHOP restaurants. Since the deal, Stewart has focused on resuscitating the grill-and-bar brand.

Stewart earned her bachelor's degree in communications at San Diego State University. After stints at restaurant chains Carl's Jr., Burger King, Taco Bell, Stuart Anderson's Black Angus and Applebee's, the San Diego native joined IHOP in 2001 and became its CEO in 2002.