Spencer Stuart Places Former Taco Bell CEO at Chipotle

Spencer Stuart Places Former Taco Bell CEO Chipotle

March 5, 2018 – Struggling to win back customers after multiple foodborne illness outbreaks, Chipotle Mexican Grill has hired former Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol as its new leader. Spencer Stuart led the search, which called for finding a CEO with proven turnaround expertise.

Steve Ells, the restaurant chain’s founder, is stepping down and will become executive chairman. “Bringing in a new CEO is the right thing to do for all our stakeholders,” said Mr. Ells. “It will allow me to focus on my strengths, which include bringing innovation to the way we source and prepare our food. I am confident that this will allow us to deliver value for our shareholders, and provide rewarding opportunities for our employees.”

Restoring Its Brand

“Chipotle has vast unrealized potential,” he said. “As we work hard to restore our brand, I believe we can capitalize on opportunities, including in areas such as the digital experience, menu innovation, delivery, catering, and domestic and international expansion, to deliver significant growth.”

Chipotle shares dipped to new lows this past year after news emerged of a norovirus outbreak connected to one of its restaurants in Sterling, VA. UBS analyst Dennis Geiger said that 37 percent of the more than 1,600 customers polled online said they frequent Chipotle less often than in the past because of food-safety concerns, proving the issue is far from settled.


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As a result, the restaurant chain was looking for a leader to help address the challenges facing the company, improve execution, build customer trust and drive sales.

Turnaround Leader

Mr. Niccol fits that bill. He most recently served as CEO of the Taco Bell division of Yum! Brands, where he was responsible for the turnaround of the business. He repositioned Taco Bell as a lifestyle brand and launched numerous product initiatives. He also transformed Taco Bell into a social media leader and revolutionized its digital approach through mobile ordering and payment across its 7,000 restaurants. Mr. Niccol previously held leadership roles at Pizza Hut, including vice president of strategy, chief marketing officer and general manager. He began his career at Procter & Gamble, where he spent 10 years in various brand management positions.

“Brian is a proven world-class executive, who will bring fresh energy and leadership to drive excellence across every aspect of our business,” said Mr. Ells. “His 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. The board is confident that Brian’s passion and skillset 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.”


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Mr. Niccol said he was excited to join Chipotle at this pivotal time. “I will focus on dialing up Chipotle’s cultural relevance through innovation in menu and digital communications,” he said. “This will attract customers, return the brand to growth, deliver value for shareholders and create opportunities for employees.”

Chipotle generated $3.9 billion in sales at 2,198 restaurants last year, making it the 14th largest quick-service restaurant in the U.S., according to QSR magazine.

Spencer Stuart’s CEO practice has conducted nearly 1,500 CEO search and succession assignments over the past five years. Veteran recruiter Jim Citrin leads the firm’s North American CEO sector group. During his 20-plus years with the firm, Mr. Citrin has worked with clients on more than 600 CEO, board director, CFO and other top management searches and CEO succession assignments.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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He didn’t turnaround Taco Bell. He did transform it but it wasn’t doing badly before; it wasn’t doing what he brought it into but that is not the same as a “turnaround.” I doubt Yum! would’ve made Taco CEO Greg Creed its overall CEO if he had stunk up Taco Bell.