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Chipotle (CMG) Soars As Former Taco Bell Chief Named CEO

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Chipotle (CMG - Free Report) announced on Tuesday afternoon that former Yum! Brands (YUM - Free Report) executive Brian Niccol will replace founder Steve Ells as the company’s chief executive. Shares of the struggling fast-casual burrito chain surged over 11% in after-hours trading following the announcement.

Chipotle began its search for a CEO to replace Ells, who will become the company’s executive chairman, in late November. The hope was to find someone who could help the brand innovate and build better customer relations as it tries to navigate through a series of public relations nightmares, most of which stem from foodborne sicknesses.

Niccol, who most recently served as the CEO of Taco Bell, will take over as chief executive officer on March 5. As the head of Taco Bell, Niccol helped oversee numerous product launches, including some of its new breakfast initiatives.

The company also credited Niccol with helping transform the fast-food taco chain into a social media leader, along with leading Taco Bell’s big push into mobile ordering and payment.

"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 in a statement.

Niccol helped worldwide system sales climb by 7% at Taco Bell in 2017. But Taco Bell’s constant menu changes and crazy food pairings aren’t likely to work at Chipotle, which is billed as a healthier and hearty, fast-casual option.

"At Chipotle's core is delicious food, which I will look to pair up with consistently great customer experiences,” Niccol said. “I will also focus on dialing up Chipotle's cultural relevance through innovation in menu and digital communications.”

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