Chipotle rounds out leadership team with 2 new execs
- Chipotle announced Thursday that it hired a chief legal officer and chief development officer, completing its leadership team, according to a company release. Roger Theodoredis and Tabassum Zalotrawala will both report to CEO Brian Niccol, who took the helm of the company in February of this year.
- Theodoredis previously served as general secretary of Danone North America and in different legal roles at WhiteWave Foods until it was bought by Danone. Zalotrawala comes to the Mexican fast casual chain after working as Panda Restaurant Group's chief development officer and vice president of design, construction and strategic sourcing.
- "I'm confident that this team will lead Chipotle's culture of purpose, innovation, and accountability to deliver new levels of growth and value for customers and shareholders," Niccol said in the press release.
It's been a big year of executive changes at Chipotle, starting with Niccol's appointment as chief at the start of 2018. The Taco Bell vet's entry was meant to get the beleaguered fast casual chain back on track after its laundry list of high-profile food safety stumbles, which pummeled sales and consumer confidence.
So far, Niccol has focused on boosting Chipotle's cultural relevance by positioning it as a lifestyle brand, a stark change from its previous minimalist strategy, which Niccol called "invisible." The tactic echoes Taco Bell's brand ethos — which makes sense, given Chipotle also tapped the fast food chain's former marketing head as CMO — but the company also made more drastic changes to right the ship, including closing dozens of underperforming stores.
Perhaps the most interesting shift, however, is the exit of Chipotle's head of food safety. James Marsden, who joined the company in 2016 following a food safety debacle that sickened diners across 14 states, recently announced that he'll retire next year. It's unclear if this departure was planned, but the timing is interesting — Marsden's announcement came less than two months after 700 customers were sickened in the chain's largest food poisoning crisis to date. Chipotle has yet to name a replacement, but Marsden's successor will face an uphill battle in improving food safety operations and recapturing wary ex-customers — especially given the chain's commitment to fresh food.
"These wellness checks that we do and other protocols that we execute — you're not going to find that in a lot of other restaurants because we are handling fresh food and we're truly cooking every day in our restaurants," Niccol told Kramer on "Mad Money." "So it just demands that we have a higher level of commitment to food safety and we'll always have to be passionate about being a leader in that space."
Zalotrawala also could help strengthen Chipotle's bid for reformation as chief development officer, and aid Niccol and CMO Chris Brandt as they grow the company's "For Real" campaign, which positions the chain as a transparent, authentic and better-for-you fast casual option. As chief legal officer, Theodoredis also could help the chain avoid and recover from stumbles like the firing and rehiring of a manager who asked black customers to prepay for their meals. Whether or not this year's staff shuffling will be enough to prime Chipotle for a turnaround remains to be seen, but Niccol has proven himself to be a savvy leader at Taco Bell, and his commitment to technological optimization could be the chain's recipe for success.
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