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Brian Niccol: CEO, Chipotle Mexican Grill

Beyond High Street podcast.

March 12

The CEO of Chipotle explains how he spends his day, mostly sitting around and doing nothing other than figuring out a way for his team to be happier, and more effective.

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It's about enabling and powering coaching, and I'm making sure that you're on the same page with those that you're leading, that they're working on the things that will. Ultimately, they will see a positive impact, so don't have success. You also want them working on some things where you make sure they're learning.


Hey guys, welcome back to be on High Street. David Schwab with you again on the Pod. Brian Nichols, CEO of two Poli Mexican Grill. He's driving strategy performance for police. 2400. That's right, 2400 plus restaurants in North America and Europe. Our conversation jumps from how he focuses on executing present day work to thinking about long term and what's next in the restaurant business to his path at Miami and his engineering degree and learning across a number of different subjects in the liberal arts. Education. Miami gives toe how he got his first internship that led to his first job. It's actually a funny story. Listen to it in the pod about walking up to the bookstore to get a Princeton review book on best places to intern pretty funny, and then a deeper chat on problem solving and how he learns and his mindset and what's needed for innovation, as well as how to deal with tough decisions and conflicts and definitely stick around for the clothes. When I asked him about his favorite go to place uptown outside of Port Left Cross. Hope you enjoy the pot.

How does the CEO of Chipotle spend his day?

2/3 of Mr. Niccol's time is spent making sure Chipotle is executing today against the strategy that will drive the business culture and result in more engaged and more excited about the work employees.

1/3 is spent on what's next - both immediately around the corner and business that is a few years away. Sometimes he also allocates time to deliberately look at the far future, 5 to 10 years out.

I'm in a restaurant, last retail business that's in everyday business. So, you know, we probably stands. And I know I spend, you know, 2/3 of my time making sure we're executing today against the strategy that we know will drive the business builder culture and, you know, hopefully result in our employees being Maur engaged more excited about the work they're doing right now. And then I you know, third of my time is spent on Okay, well, what's next? And well, I mean by what's next kind of things that are right around the corner and some of the things that you know you need to be contemplating that could be a couple years away. But it makes sense to least start a dialogue with the conversation,

understand, with the application to our business. And you know that how I spoke a my daily weekly, uh, schedule really how I spend my time. Then there are days where you specifically say, you know what we're gonna spend today on what we think the next 5 to 10 years looks like for our category or consumers. But those air, like, specific moments where you bring in external partners or thought leaders Thio here about was kind of out in the distant future.


Yeah, and the change for you in that 2/3 moment thereof executing by day following a long term strategy as you've grown in your career from PNG days up till now and you and you're probably doing less of the day to day execution. And in a large team that's able to do that the value thereof, teamwork and leadership on how that's changed throughout your career.


Yes, you're obviously the I moved up in the organization, the action of actually doing the work of verses, you know, empowering the work, supporting the work, coaching around the work that has changed dramatically. Right when I started out as a system brain manager, Procter and Gamble, you know, I was showing up at the office, pulling the data, synthesizing the information, you know, lying down to the plan, you know, connecting with the agency connected with cross functional partners,

you know, every day. That's what my day was. First move from my career. You know, you just start to get more into a place where it's about enabling and powering coaching and making sure that you're on the same page with those that, um, you're leading that they're working on. The thing will. Ultimately, they will see a positive impact, so don't have success. You also want to work on some things where you make sure they're learning. So you know, you need to give people the room to experiment. Jittery on Dhe. Then you know, sometimes learning results in a little bit of failure, which isn't a bad thing. Any grows them as a leader of them as an employee and obviously benefits the organization as


well. And as you picked up some of those coaching in leadership skills along the way, how much of that is self taught? Or are their mentors role models, different ways? You learn that you can point to that have helped along the way.


Yeah, I would say, Look, I've had some great managers along the way, and then you had, uh, you know, natural, great managers. And you learn in both of those experiences of what got me excited about coming to work, got me excited to put more myself out there. And, you know, the ones that I think really got more out of me or the folks that I wouldn't say ended up becoming mentors and, uh, folks that every now and then I think back to, you know,

how did they handle that situation? What did I learn from it? You know, I love that I had some great managers early in my career Procter Gamble, which really gave me the freedom to really take a step out of just doing the day to day work and bring 434 creative ideas and say, Okay, if you've got an idea that sounds like a good one, go make it happen. And, uh, you know, I loved the fact that I had people that trusted me to do that early in my career. I think that's a big thing. You know, they cared enough, and they trusted me.

The birds and opportunities where not everything went as I had hoped. But a few things did kill my way. And, uh, you know, the whole business benefited. And, you know, I was obviously bath fitted personally,


and you touched on P and G. How does one go from a college senior in Oxford studying engineering to the brand management program over there in Cincinnati?


Yeah. You know, look, uh, that was one of those kind of a funny story because, um, you know, I remember having a conversation with my folks. It was my junior year. And, uh, you know, my dad's like, Hey, you should think about what you're gonna do this summer between your junior and senior year. It's gonna sound really old here. Like I walk up to the bookstore and I bought the Princeton Review on American Top 100 internships.

And the world will actually typed up letters and mail them. Uh, too, You know, Procter and Gamble, Goldman Sachs, Kinsey. You know, bang B, C D E. G, and all the what I consider a top tier places, uh, word. And, you know,

um, it worked out where you those folks responded back in. And then even gamble was coming to Miami campus because they had a recruiting program there um, so long story. Sure. Uh, when I got into the PNG interviewing process, it really came more about critical thinking skills. How do you approach problem solving? Because they had to believe that we can teach you kind of marketing 101 and, uh, way want people that, you know, appeared to have leadership, potential, critical thinking skills and can bring people along with their thinking.

And, you know, So they gave me a shot with an internship, and I said Yes. And, you know, uh, luckily, that was one of the better decisions I made. Actually. Better decision I made as I walked up to the book store, bought a book and rosen letters. Um, you're gonna do that?


And where and that process did you realize before walking up to the bookstore that engineering wasn't going to be the path Or maybe it would. But this was just a place to start looking for the internship.


Yeah. You know, I kind of decided I didn't want to do You got, uh, plan Ralph or the kind of the traditional engineering about. So I was really thinking, you know, what can I do either in consulting? Uh, Or what can I do with, you know, the problem solving skills that we may be taking out of the non traditional engineering? You know, I've gotten some exposure toward some of the traditional jobs. Were like, you know, I could do it,

but I wasn't, uh, fired up about it. And, uh, you know, I think you know, I always tell this vote I'm like, Look, um, it is great if you can find early in your career the things that really gets you excited. And, um, you know, I remember when I was in Miami, and I took a class on economics,

and, uh, you know, I also took a marketing class, and I just like the whole idea of human behavior and how incentives and the psychology of things impact people behavior. And, you know, I want to do more of that. A supposed to, you know, some of the traditional engineering rules that came out. So I would say it's a couple professors, couple classes that opened my eyes to what? Our other types of work. And then I said, You know what?

How do I find, uh, some experiences in those places? Toe? Hopefully, maybe move my career that way.


Yeah, And when you when you think back to Miami and there's professors and classes I hear a lot when doing this that Miami gave certainly me to the opportunity to learn. And then it's up to the individual than to go do it. Uh, what what do you take? Is the big takeaway from four years at Miami that it gives you the opportunity to do and the miss if you don't do it.


Yeah, right. Well, look, I think one thing that I really enjoyed about my kind of Miami was even though I was in the engineering program, uh, you know, you could still take, you know, a marketing class in the business school and economics class in the business school. I don't know if they still do the Miami plan now, but, you know, it gave me an opportunity to take classes that were completely out of my traditional discipline, which helped me realize, Hey, you know what?

I'm really interested in the things like I'm excited to go to the next economic class with Professor Jerry Miller. I'm excited to go to the next mark in class with Jan Taylor. I remember these boats still 20 years later, Um, and, you know, it was those types of classes even, you know, I had a great professor in engineering, because dr to me, you know, and I wrote you about family, and, you know, I like the coursework. And I like,

um, how I'm learning in here, but I'm not sure this is the profession I want to take. And he was the one that encouraged me like, Well, you should be taking some other classes to find out how you can take these learning skills and apply it into other disciplines. And, you know, when you're 18 1920 years old, Um, you know, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. Um, you know, I was going to Miami trying to figure out how to get, uh,

you know, big rage and, you know, enjoy being independent. So, you know, I think those opportunities air really powerful. And then you're exactly right, though is they only provide so much learning and opportunities you have to then take the action to go do it, And you gotta be willing to say, You know what? I've never done this before. but I think I'm capable. I got some things that I've been drawn to be effective and, uh, be open to the learning process both in the job as well as the academic environment.


Yeah, and then to two thoughts, really To final thoughts here on present day in terms of innovation and how, uh, how to teach your brain and to think differently or a little bit with some more abstract thinking and then to dealing and facing with problems that we all interact with everyday, professionally, personally. Just what the skill set of that, too.

Can innovative thinking be taught?

Innovation happens everywhere, but to innovate, you have to have a high level of curiosity and a high level of is discomfort with the status quo. With technology today, it's fairly easy to run small experiments and to find whether your ideas have any lengs.

However, sometimes people get intimidated because the spotlight is usually on big innovations, like the iPhone. But in reality, everyone can innovate in their everyday, and organizations need to be better at encouraging it, which only happens when you become great at getting feedback and turning it into actions.

Yeah, sure. So look on the innovation side of things. I think that the fundamental piece of the puzzle there is you have to have a high level of curiosity and yourself have a high level of is comfort with, you know, uh, the status quo. And you know what? I did so great. Uh, where we are with technology today is it really presents the opportunity for you to do small scale experimentation and find out whether or not these ideas have any weights. I mentioned our organization here. Innovation happens everywhere. You know, everybody likes the point to the big thing. um, you know,

whether it's a new product or any marketing campaign. But, you know, we're trying to have a culture where whatever your area disappointed, you should be figuring out how you can innovate and be better than we were, you know, last week or six months ago. And I think sometimes people get intimidated. But there's two words seemed intimidate people in business strategy and innovation. And, uh, you know, I was reminded of a look strategy. It shouldn't the choices that you made on go execute those choices. But we have the cars to listen to the feedback and, you know,

you may find some choices are wrong, but the best ride of these are the ones that are definitive in the choice and then acting execute on the choice so that you know whether or not you're winning losing, you know, going forward, going backwards, standing still and then on innovating. Everybody, I think has a pressure of like, how do I love you? Like, uh, you know, Apple did with the Apple iPhone and play. Yeah, look would be wonderful to have the next iPhone, but But that is,

you know, once in a lifetime type innovation. I think organizations need to encourage the idea every day you have the ability to innovate, and it's really grounded in the idea. What should we be doing to be better on? What can we do with learning in the feedback that we're getting so that we're innovating off of that information, synthesizing that information so that kind of the approach taken my whole career professional career? And what about the seemingly organisation specifies culture on trying to create a strategic organization that will execute against those choices. And then we're an organization and culture that should believe that we have the ability to be better every day on anything. Regarding your second question about how do you deal with using conflict? You know, I think one of the mistakes people make today because information so free flowing is they don't actually get all the information I think they have. They believe that they got all the information. Um, and the reality is you actually haven't taken a moment to listen to what the whole situation really is, and in some cases,

as a result, people act incorrectly into um too premature and one of things I always try to do is like, Hey, let's make sure we've got the whole context on this issue In today's environment, that doesn't mean you have a week to collect information. I mean, if I had a couple hours to collect information, but you gotta be making sure you're getting the information. So that issue really is covered 360 degrees so that, you know, again, you're gonna make a choice on how you're going to respond to this on The good news is, there's a lot of information out there. I think the problem is people usually only listen to the information they want to listen to. Uh oh, the pain,

the issue one dimensional win. The reality is no issues one dimensional, so the faster you can get it more comprehensive context. I think the better your ability is could handle the issue at hand. On the good news is, there's lots of ways to get that information


today. Yeah, and in closing, I normally ask people when they get back to Oxford, obviously you close your eyes and you think about all the different spots on campus. You want to go visit and normally ask people where they stop at first to get food. I mean, you now have a restaurant, your own restaurant in town. So we're gonna put that one aside for a second. We're going. Exactly. So I get that which wasn't there, which wasn't there when you and I were in school. Um, know where do you get a second?


You know, look, I love the day's going to bagel in Delhi for the pool, Jule. And then, uh, I also love the day's going to Mac and Joe's for those big beard. I think they're like called a big bubble beers and, uh, hot wings. Those were two my favorite spots. But now that we have kids, whenever we go back to campus to, they love to go to Skipper's feel like the skipper fries.


What a great closing sentence there from Bryant on where he would go outside of Poland. A number of different places in there. And if you close your eyes in your Miami a lot more student, you can think about every one of those food decisions on campus. My university should be really proud. Brian's done on incredible job throughout his professional career and certainly what he's done most recently with Chipotle A. He's a visionary and innovator and a world class leader, and everyone who listens, this pod hopefully can learn from it. His problem solving skills, his mindset, how to innovate and that discussion on conflicts and problems hope everyone has a great day. Seeing Oxford real soon, make sure to stop by Chipotle.

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