How Brian Niccol turned Chipotle around

November 23, 2021, 11:28 AM UTC

Good morning.

When Brian Niccol was tapped to be CEO of Chipotle in early 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 has gone up 5X since Niccol took the helm. So how’d he do it? That’s one of the questions Ellen McGirt and I asked him on this week’s edition of our Leadership Next podcast. In part, it was the bold decision he made pre-pandemic to install a second kitchen in his stores for digital sales—even though those sales were only 15% of his business. That served him well when digital sales became 100% of his business. “Before the pandemic, we were probably on track to do about $1 billion of digital sales,” Niccol says. “Now, we are probably on track to do over $3 billion of digital business.”

You could call that luck. Or you could say that Niccol saw where the world was going, and got there first. He’s doing something similar today by charting out an aggressive path to sustainability and tying executive bonuses to progress on the issue. (For a fun take on the company’s sustainability strategy, check out Chipotle’s new animated video here, with a magical soundtrack featuring Kacey Musgrave singing Coldplay’s “Fix You.”)

Ellen asked Niccol what he thinks CEOs need to know to navigate a rapidly changing world. His response:

“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, you know, I think that takes courage to be able to say, I don’t know everything that’s coming around the corner, but you know what, we’re going to take a couple paths forward here, and we’re going to make some decisions, and then we’re going to listen, learn and react accordingly.”

You can listen to the full interview on Apple or Spotify. And when you are done, check out the previous week’s episode, where we interviewed another remarkable leader—United Airline’s Scott Kirby. Among other things, Kirby talks about why he was one of the first CEOs to impose a vaccine mandate on his employees. (He also told us that he spends three hours a day reading things that aren’t directly related to his job. If anyone can top that, let me know.)

More news below.

Alan Murray


Europe no-gos

The U.S. CDC and State Department have told Americans to stay away from Germany and Denmark due to the scary COVID-19 situation there. Denmark's infections rates are even higher than those in the U.K. now, which is saying something. Fortune

Powell selection

President Joe Biden wants Jerome Powell to stay on as Fed Chair, with the progressive-backed Lael Brainard heading for the Vice-Chair role. The left of the Democratic Party may not vote for Powell's confirmation, and markets around the world also dipped on the news of his likely re-appointment. Fortune

Texan chips

Samsung will build another advanced semiconductor plant in Texas. It already has a plant in Austin and will reportedly build the new, $17 billion facility in nearby Taylor. The move will be a boost to the U.S. government's plans for more onshore chip manufacturing, and could help Samsung drum up more American business. Fortune

Apple/Amazon antitrust

Amazon and Apple have been hit with $225 million in Italian antitrust fines, due to a 2018 agreement that limited who could sell Apple and Beats products on Amazon's Italian website. Both companies say they will appeal. Reuters


Beating COVID

You may recall Enochian BioSciences CEO Mark Dybul, who caused a stir at a Fortune conference a week ago by predicting the emergence of a vaccine-resistant COVID strain early next year. Here, he and Enochian co-founder Serhat Gümrükçü discuss the five-part strategy they say is needed to beat the pandemic. "Urgently increasing vaccine access, acceptance, and production, including in lower-income countries, with boosters for all, is essential to limit the coming tide of infections, hospitalizations and deaths," they write. "However, a vaccine-only strategy is doomed to fail." Fortune

Starbucks organizers

Fortune's Jane Thier provides a fascinating look at the Starbucks unionization drive going on in the Buffalo, N.Y. area. "The only time I ever had health insurance was when my parents were in unions," shift supervisor Angel Krempa told her. "Starbucks’ plan is not very accountable for people who suffer from chronic illnesses like I do." Fortune

Women investors

Women are flocking to the stock markets, even as many withdrew from the workforce during the pandemic. As Fortune's Jessica Mathews reports: "There are a few contributing factors here: For one, the pandemic led to a big increase in female investors. And bizarre market events like the GameStop phenomenon drew a huge number of new people to the stock market, many of whom were women." Fortune

NFT copyright

A spat between Damien Hirst and the digital artist "Loafgren" highlights the interesting clash between the crypto and traditional art scenes, and the way in which that tension might play out. After all, DMCA notices can't scrub NFTs from the blockchain, because nothing can, as this piece by NFT artist and collector Nimrod Kamer points out. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

This is the web version of CEO Daily, a daily newsletter of must-read insights from Fortune CEO Alan Murray. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

Read More

CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet