Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. announced on March 3, 2020, that its board of directors had appointed Brian Niccol, the company's CEO, to the additional position of chairman of the board of directors, effective immediately. As a result, Steve Ells, who founded the fast-casual chain, is stepping down as executive chairman and as a director. Neil Flanzraich will continue to serve as lead independent director, according to the company.
Mr. Flanzraich, speaking on behalf of the board of directors in a news release, said, "Steve Ells is a visionary founder who not only created a new and successful brand, but also revolutionized casual dining in 1993 with the introduction of Chipotle and the concept of food with integrity. We are grateful for all that Steve has done for Chipotle, including helping build and guide the current leadership team, and for his service as executive chairman during the last two years."
With Chipotle, Ells, left, helped establish the fast-casual segment as it’s known today. Ells, with help from a significant investment from McDonald's in 1998, grew the company to about 2,000 units and took the company public in 2006. McDonald's later divested in the brand.
"I am grateful to Steve for his mentorship and guidance since I joined Chipotle two years ago," said Niccol in the news release. "Our key strategies are working, and I am proud of the results the team has achieved. We are building a sustainable model to cultivate a better world, while enhancing value for our shareholders."
Ells stepped down as CEO of Chipotle in 2017 as the brand faced a series of foodborne illness outbreaks. Niccol, below, former CEO of Taco Bell, joined the company as CEO in February 2018. He has turned the company and its stock prices around. Niccol moved the company headquarters from Denver to Newport Beach, Calif.
"Brian has proven that he is absolutely the right person to lead Chipotle forward, and I've never been more confident about the future of this great company," Ells said in the news statement. "I am especially grateful to the employees and our valued customers over the last 27 years who helped make Chipotle the unmatched brand in fast-casual dining it is today. I look forward to following Chipotle's continued growth and success for many years to come."
In the news statement, the company also announced that directors Matthew Paull and Paul Cappuccio will not stand for re-election to the board at the 2020 annual meeting of shareholders.
"Matt and Paul have been vital members of the board through a transformational time in the company's history. Their strategic maturity and clear-eyed business experience have benefited this company tremendously," Niccol said in the statement.