Chipo­tle’s Ells named sole CEO

The founder prom­ises to fo­cus on guest ex­pe­ri­ence by get­ting closer to the day-to-day op­er­a­tions.

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Em­i­lie Rusch

Chipo­tle Mex­i­can Grill founder Steve Ells promised to “re­lent­lessly” fo­cus on im­prov­ing cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter be­ing named the sole chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Den­ver-based fast-ca­sual chain on Mon­day.

“I want to get much closer to the day-to­day op­er­a­tions and re­ally make sure that we fo­cus on the guest ex­pe­ri­ence,” Ells said dur­ing a call with in­vestors.

The lead­er­ship change comes as the bur­rito chain strug­gles to re­gain mo­men­tum af­ter be­ing rocked by a food­borne ill­ness cri­sis last year. Chipo­tle saw its stock fall as much as 7.8 per­cent one day last week — its worst stock de­cline in weeks — af­ter Ells ex­pressed dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the com­pany’s rate of re­cov­ery and its in-store ex­pe­ri­ence.

Chipo­tle’s board of di­rec­tors an­nounced Ells as the sole CEO on Mon­day fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tion of co-CEO Monty

Mo­ran ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately. Ells and Mo­ran had served as co-CEOs of the fast-ca­sual chain since 2009.

“Given the on­go­ing chal­lenges fac­ing the com­pany, the board felt strongly that it was best for Steve to re­sume lead­er­ship of the com­pany go­ing for­ward,” Neil Flanzraich, lead di­rec­tor of Chipo­tle’s board, said in a state­ment. “This will en­sure that his high stan­dards for the guest ex­pe­ri­ence and his un­yield­ing com­mit­ment to the com­pany’s mis­sion are top pri­or­i­ties.”

Ells said among his imme- di­ate goals is re­mov­ing “un­nec­es­sary com­plex­ity” from the com­pany’s op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing in ar­eas of hir­ing, train­ing and how it mea­sures suc­cess.

“We know that do­ing the ba­sic fun­da­men­tal block­ing and tack­ling is em­pow­er­ing to our folks and it results in a bet­ter guest ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said.

In step­ping down as coCEO, Mo­ran also re­signed his seat on Chipo­tle’s board of di­rec­tors. Ells will re­main board chair­man, the com­pany said, de­spite in­vestor pres­sure to bring in an in­de­pen­dent board chair and cre­ate a less in­su­lar board.

Ac­tivist in­vestor Bill Ack­man in Septem­ber ac­quired a 9.9 per­cent stake in Chipo­tle with an eye to­ward im­prov­ing the “com­pany’s op­er­a­tions, cost struc­ture, man­age­ment and strat­egy,” ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg.

Ells said in­creas­ing re­peat vis­its by cus­tomers is key to the chain’s on­go­ing re­cov­ery.

Among the ar­eas that have “slid” re­cently, though, com­pany of­fi­cials said, are how of­ten res­tau­rants are run­ning out of food and how quickly lines are mov­ing.

“We can im­me­di­ately change some things to re­fo­cus our crews’ ef­forts and they will go im­me­di­ately to­ward a bet­ter cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence,” Ells said. “As cus­tomers come back, the bet­ter the ex­pe­ri­ence, the more fre­quently they’ll come back.”

Steve Ells, vis­it­ing one of his Chipo­tle res­tau­rants in downtown Den­ver, be­came the only chief ex­ec­u­tive af­ter the res­ig­na­tion of co-CEO Monty Mo­ran. Glen Martin, The Den­ver Post

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