Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. named Brian Niccol as CEO as of March 5, the company said Tuesday.
Niccol most recently served as CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell Corp., the division of Yum! Brands Inc. He succeeds Steve Ells, founder and CEO of the Denver-based Chipotle, who announced in November he would step down.
Niccol has served as Taco Bell CEO role at Taco Bell since January 2015, when his predecessor Greg Creed became CEO of parent Yum.
"Brian is a proven world-class executive, who will bring fresh energy and leadership to drive excellence across every aspect of our business,” said Ells, who will become Chipotle’s executive chairman, in a statement.
“His expertise in digital technologies, restaurant operations and branding make him a perfect fit for Chipotle as we seek to enhance our customer experience, drive sales growth and make our brand more relevant,” Ells said.
Niccol said he was excited to join Chipotle.
“I have tremendous respect for the Chipotle brand and its powerful purpose,” Niccol said. “At Chipotle's core is delicious food, which I will look to pair up with consistently great customer experiences. I will also focus on dialing up Chipotle's cultural relevance through innovation in menu and digital communications. This will attract customers, return the brand to growth, deliver value for shareholders and create opportunities for employees.”
Niccol joined Taco Bell in 2011 and served as president from 2013 to 2014. He launched such products as breakfast and the company’s social media across 7,000 restaurants.
Prior to Taco Bell, Niccol held leadership roles at Pizza Hut, including vice president of strategy, chief marketing officer and general manager. Niccol began his career at Procter & Gamble, where he spent 10 years in various brand management positions.
Chipotle has faced declines sales and traffic since several food-borne illness outbreaks in 2015 and 2016.
For the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, Chipotle’s same-store sales increased 0.9 percent, which the company partially attributed to menu price increases. Net income for the quarter was $43.8 million, or $1.55 per share, compared with $16 million, or $0.55 per share, the previous year.
As of Dec. 31, Chipotle, founded in 1993, had 2,406 restaurants.
With Niccol's departure, Yum Brands said Julie Felss Masino, president of Taco Bell North America, and Liz Williams, president of Taco Bell International, will assume leadership at the company's quick-service Mexican division.
“As Brian moves on to another opportunity, we’re grateful he has built a world-class leadership team," said Creed in a statement.
“I’m confident that Julie, an accomplished brand builder and restaurant industry executive, and Liz, a strong brand veteran, are well positioned to ensure a seamless transition and will continue to elevate Taco Bell into a distinctive, relevant and easy brand."
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Update Feb. 13, 2018: This story has added comment from Yum Brands on leadership at Taco Bell.