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Chipotle Mexican Grill CEO Steve Ells to Step Down

In the wake of food-borne illness scares and weak product launches, the search for new leadership is underway.

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It’s no secret that Chipotle Mexican Grill has been going through a rough patch. Food-borne illness scares and, most recently, a dismal response to the company’s highly-touted queso launch, have Chipotle stumbling to regain its foothold as the darling of the fast-casual world. (Chipotle is also an investor in the fast-casual arm of Pizzeria Locale.) It’s fair to assume that because of this shakeup, Steve Ells, CEO and founder of the 24-year-old company, will step down once a search yields a replacement. At that time, Ells will become executive chairman, focusing mostly on innovation.

According to Chris Arnold, communications director and Chipotle’s official spokesperson, “Steve will remain actively involved with the company. His new role will allow him to focus on his greatest strengths, including bringing innovation to the way in which we source ingredients and prepare our food.”

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In a statement issued by the company, Ells says, “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. Simply put, we need to execute better to ensure our future success.”

At this time, no names have been floated for a possible new CEO; the hunt will be led by executive recruitment firm Spencer Stuart in tandem with a search committee made up of Chipotle board members, including Robin Hickenlooper and Ali Namvar, and Ells.

Of the search, Ells says, “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.” Arnold adds: “We are confident that we will attract a number of strong candidates in our search process, and we will move diligently and as quickly as possible.  That said, we will take the time necessary to ensure that we identify the right executive to lead Chipotle forward. We believe this is an incredible opportunity for a world-class executive.”

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