We Called It: Taco Bell’s Brian Niccol Leaves for Chipotle
By now, the industry knows Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol will become Chipotle Mexican Grill CEO on March 5. It’s hardly surprising. Niccol’s name appeared in a December Restaurant Finance Monitor story I wrote about ideal candidates for CMG chief executive. Founder and CEO Steve Ells had earlier announced a search was on, noting that he’d become Executive Chairman once CEO was named.
For his part, Niccol hadn’t exactly kept secret his desire for a job change after three years at the helm of the popular Mexican fast-feeder. In a May 9 podcast with his former boss and YUM! Brands CEO, David Novak (during a show called oGoInsider Leadership and available on iTunes), Niccol said this: “All the people I’ve worked for are people who are not afraid of something else to learn. That is the best advice I’ve gotten.”
When I asked Novak via Linkedin in early December for a comment about whether Niccol could successfully address Chipotle’s challenges, he demurred, responding: “I don't think that would be appropriate.” Moreover, Taco Bell’s media relations department failed to arrange an interview I sought with Niccol about wanting to learn "something else".
By all accounts, including a Chipotle press release, Niccol’s relatively short tenure at Taco Bell has been successful, due largely to innovations around new products and technology. It remains to be seen whether he can quickly improve comp sales at beleaguered Chipotle, no doubt a priority. Or whether his tenure there will be marked by a resistance to rapid change by someone at the very top.