Chipotle Names New CEO: Brian Niccol

Source: NY Times

By Mitch Anderson

Chipotle may be approaching big changes as they prepare to replace their current CEO, Steve Ells, on March 5th. Ells, a co-founder of Chipotle, has been in the company’s top position since 2009 and has spent 25 years with the company. This change for the CEO position has come following three unsavory years for Chipotle including the E. Coli and norovirus crises that put Chipotle in the headlines back in the fall of 2015. Chipotle hopes to usher in a fresh start with a replacement at the head of the company.

This week, Brian Niccol was named to be the replacement for Ells. Niccol has spent almost a decade as the CEO of Taco Bell dating back to 2011. Niccol has ushered in a significant amount of success for Taco Bell throughout his tenure as CEO, including time spent as marketing and innovation chief for Taco Bell’s brand. This position involved a revamp of social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat. Because of this past success, Niccol intends to provide a similar focus to social media with Chipotle.

There has been a significant amount of optimism surrounding the naming of Brian Niccol as CEO of Chipotle, as their stock rose 14% immediately following the announcement. Many believe that Niccol’s time with Taco Bell is evidence of his ability to create successful rebranding and a positive marketing image. For this reason, many professionals are finding Chipotle’s shares to be more attractive than in recent memory.

Believing that Chipotle is at a “pivotal time in its history,” Steve Ells believes that Niccol’s digital expertise and proficiency in operations management can help lead Chipotle in the right direction over the next few years. Various shortcomings in recent years, such as the disappointing unveiling of Chipotle’s brand new queso dip and the norovirus crisis, make right now the ideal time for Chipotle to focus on spinning their public image and reputation. Niccol’s experience with Taco Bell on various branding campaigns is expected to be a main focus early in his time as Chipotle’s CEO.

Similar to Ells, Niccol has also worked against the adversity of crisis in the public eye during his tenure at Taco Bell. Back in 2011, near the beginning of Niccol’s career with the company, Taco Bell faced a class-action lawsuit regarding the quality and ingredients of their meat. This experience of understanding the process and how to move past negative marketing and publicity is expected to be an asset for Niccol as he is handed the reigns. Since Niccol became president in 2013, Taco Bell has been performing better than almost all other subsidiaries of the Yum Brands.

Although he is stepping down from his role as CEO of the company, Steve Ells will still remain an executive chairman on the board for the company. Chipotle believes the experience and varying skill sets of both Ells and Niccol will allow them to function very well as the two operate together as Chipotle board members. Chipotle is likely in for various changes both publically and internally come March 5th, as Brian Niccol assumes the role as CEO of the company