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Turning Chipotle Around

When Brian Niccol became CEO of Chipotle in 2018, he had a challenge on his hands ! Chipotle was in the midst of a tainted food scandal, and some analysts were predicting the brand might never recover.

Today, the picture looks very different. Chipotle stock is up 5X since Niccol took the helm. So how did he do it?  In part, it was the bold decision he made pre-pandemic to install a second kitchen in the stores for digital sales – even though they were only 15% of the business at the time. That move served the business very well during the pandemic when digital sales became 100 % of the business. To put in perspective, before the pandemic Chipotle was on track to do about $1 billion of digital sales – now the company is expecting over $3 billion of digital business !

You could call it luck or recognize that Niccol saw where the world was going – and got there quickly. He’s doing something similar today by charting out an aggressive path to sustainability and tying executive compensation to progress on ESG. See Chipotle’s new messaging on responsible food production, supporting farmers, sustainability, etc. in the video here.

From experience, Niccol thinks CEOs need to know how to navigate a rapidly changing world –

“If you’re doing a great job leading your organization, you’re always looking for insights and understanding that tell you what’s coming around the corner. You’ve got to recognize where you are today, but you have to have a plan for what’s coming around the corner. And that it takes courage to be able to say, I don’t know everything that’s coming around the corner – but you’re going to take a couple paths forward here – and make some decisions – and then we’re going to listen, learn and react accordingly.”  For the full interview, go to Apple or Spotify

This is a great example of innovation in an enterprise.  And because of need, successfully innovating for impact has significantly improved outcomes at Chipotle.

In closing, please contact CAIL if interested in sharing insights on meaningfully improving outcomes from innovation in your organization too.


Nov 25, 2021            CAIL innovation commentary                   905-940-9000