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Chipotle begins search for new CEO with a focus on turnaround expertise

BY Marianne Wilson

Dogged by ongoing food-safety concerns and disappointing sales, the founder of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. is stepping down as CEO.

The fast-casual chain announced that Steve Ells will hand over the reins as chief executive once a new CEO is appointed. He will remain head of the board and become executive chairman. Ellis founded the company in 1993, growing it from a single site in Denver to more than 2,350 locations today.

In 2015, Chipotle was hit with an E-coli outbreak that spread across several states. The company subsequently was hit with several other food-safety scares. It has struggled to regain the trust of customers and seen its once lofty reputation taken down more than a few notches. Chipotle also suffered a data breach earlier this year.

Chipotle has formed a search committee comprised of directors Robin Hickenlooper and Ali Namvar, as well as Ells, to identify a new leader “with demonstrated turnaround expertise to help address the challenges facing the company, improve execution, build customer trust, and drive sales,” the company said.

“I am incredibly proud of Chipotle and our people – and grateful to our loyal customers – and while we are continuing to make progress, it is clear that we need to move faster to make improvements,” said Ells. “Simply put, we need to execute better to ensure our future success. The board and I are committed to bringing in an experienced leader with a passion for driving excellence across every aspect of our business, including the customer experience, operations, marketing, technology, food safety, and training.”

Ells said that bringing in a new CEO would allow him to focus on his strengths, which include innovation in food sourcing and preparation.

“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,” he added.

Chipotle has retained the services of executive recruitment firm Spencer Stuart to assist in the search for a new CEO.

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