- Hollis Johnson
- Chipotle’s founder announced plans to step down after 24 years.
- The chain has begun the hunt for a CEO who can “address the challenges facing the company” and build customer trust.
- Chipotle has struggled to win back customers after a 2015 E. coli outbreak.
Chipotle announced on Wednesday morning that its chief executive officer and founder plans to step down as it begins its hunt for a new CEO.
Steve Ells, the fast-casual burrito chain’s chairman, founder and CEO will step down from his position “following the completion of a search to identify a new CEO” the company said in a statement. Ells will remain involved as executive chairman.
According to Chipotle, the company is looking for “a new leader with demonstrated turnaround expertise to help address the challenges facing the company, improve execution, build customer trust, and drive sales.”
This is the second time in less than a year that Chipotle has announced plans to cut a CEO. In December 2016, co-CEO Monty Moran stepped down from his position, with Ells saying that Chipotle’s operations had become “overcomplicated” under their shared leadership.
“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,” Ells said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Bringing in a new CEO is the right thing to do for all our stakeholders. It will allow me to focus on my strengths, which include bringing innovation to the way we source and prepare our food. It will ultimately improve our ability to provide our guests with delicious food that is prepared with high quality ingredients that are raised responsibly and served in a way that is accessible to everyone.”
Ells also said that the chain has “vast unrealized potential,” and will look at opportunities including digital, menu innovation, delivery, and international expansion.
Chipotle has struggled since an E. coli crisis two years ago drove customers away from the chain. Shares of the company are down more than 60% since peaking in August 2015.
Ells is an outspoken advocate of natural food who has been crucial in shaping Chipotle’s “fast-casual” ethos.
However, as Chipotle has struggled to recover from the E. coli scandal, some critics have blamed Ells. In November 2016, two investors, Amalgamated Bank and CtW Investment Group, jointly filed a shareholder proposal to replace Ells as CEO.