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Steve Ells, chairman, founder and chief executive officer of Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., will step down from his role and become executive chairman following the selection of a new CEO for the company. Mr. Ells founded Chipotle in 1993. “Steve is a visionary leader and one of the most successful restaurateurs in history, having grown Chipotle from a single restaurant in Colorado to more than 2,350 restaurants today,” said Neil W. Flanzraich, lead independent director of Chipotle.

“Steve made the decision, and the board agreed, that now is the right time to identify a new CEO who can reinvigorate the brand and help the company achieve its potential. We are committed to recruiting a world-class CEO for this incredible opportunity.” The board has formed a search committee — comprised of Robin Hickenlooper, Ali Nambar and Mr. Ells — to identify a new leader for the restaurant company who “demonstrates turnaround expertise to help address the challenges facing the company, improve execution, build consumer trust and drive sales,” Chipotle 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,” Mr. Ells said. “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. “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. I am confident that this will allow us to deliver value for our shareholders, and provide rewarding opportunities for our employees. Chipotle has vast unrealized potential. 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 has struggled to recover from a foodborne illness outbreak in 2015 that included 55 cases of E. coli O26 across 11 states followed by a norovirus outbreak at a Boston-based restaurant that reportedly sickened 80 individuals. Shares of Chipotle opened at a 52-week low of $277 per share on Oct. 25 after company executives described a difficult operating environment that has prompted the company to scale back new restaurant openings. Chipotle’s share price was down 14.6% from the previous day’s close of $324.30. Reaction from the investment community came against a backdrop of financials that, while stronger than year-ago results, failed to meet analysts’ expectations. – Source: Food Business News.

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