Chipotle’s New CEO
For years, Chipotle was considered an “upscale” version of Taco Bell. But now, in the wake of food safety scandals that have rocked its reputation and once-sterling sales, the fast-casual pioneer is turning to the head of its fast-food peer to replace its outgoing chief executive, Steve Ells.
Chipotle announced Tuesday afternoon that effective March 5, Brian Niccol will take the reins from Ells and become Chipotle’s next CEO. Niccol is currently the chief executive of Taco Bell, a position he has held since 2015. “Brian’s expertise in digital technologies, restaurant operations and branding make him a perfect fit for Chipotle as we seek to enhance our customer experience, drive sales growth and make our brand more relevant,” Ells said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “The board is confident that Brian’s passion and skill set ideally position him to make the bold moves needed to improve operations and take the company to the next level, all while remaining true to our purpose and the values that are essential to our customers.”
Despite the introduction of food giveaways, a loyalty program and new menu items like chorizo sausage and queso dip, many customers have stayed away. Chipotle executives have acknowledged neglecting basic operational details like keeping restaurants clean and up-to-date, while they focused on food safety. Chipotle shares, which had lost nearly 40% of their value in the past year through Monday, slipped 1.2% in Tuesday’s regular session before rising sharply in after-hours trading on news of the CEO appointment. “Other companies were working on doing a better job to close the gap between them and Chipotle through value offerings and improved quality,” said Deutsche Bank analyst Brett Levy.
As marketing and innovation chief of Taco Bell at the time, Mr. Niccol repositioned the chain as a youthful lifestyle brand. The company hired interns to handle the brand’s Twitter and Pinterest accounts, circulated a petition in favor of a taco emoji, created a taco lens on Snapchat and developed an ad showcasing photos of people posting Taco Bell food on Instagram. Mr. Niccol aims to draw on that work at Chipotle, using social media to make the brand more youthful and culturally relevant.