Can Investors Stomach a New CEO at Chipotle?

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Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE: CMG) shares were briefly halted on Wednesday morning after the burrito chain announced that it would begin its search for a new CEO. After a long battle dealing with Chipotle’s public image, it seems that Steve Ells has had enough, although he will still be overseeing company operations from the board.

Steve Ells, chairman, CEO and founder, will become executive chairman following the completion of a search to identify a new CEO.

The board has formed a search committee comprised of Directors Robin Hickenlooper and Ali Namvar, as well as Ells, to identify a new leader with demonstrated turnaround expertise to help address the challenges facing the company, improve execution, build customer trust and drive sales.

Ells commented on the search:

Bringing in a new CEO is the right thing to do for all our stakeholders. It will allow me to focus on my strengths, which include bringing innovation to the way we source and prepare our food. It will ultimately improve our ability to provide our guests with delicious food that is prepared with high quality ingredients that are raised responsibly and served in a way that is accessible to everyone. I am confident that this will allow us to deliver value for our shareholders, and provide rewarding opportunities for our employees. Chipotle has vast unrealized potential. As we work hard to restore our brand, I believe we can capitalize on opportunities, including in areas such as the digital experience, menu innovation, delivery, catering, and domestic and international expansion, to deliver significant growth.

Excluding Wednesday’s move, Chipotle shares were down 24% year to date. Over the past 52 weeks, the stock is down 28%. But the kicker here is that the stock has dropped about 60% since its first norovirus incident in the fall of 2015.

Shares of Chipotle were last seen up nearly 4% Wednesday at $297.31, with a consensus analyst price target of $316.89 and a 52-week range of $263.00 to $499.00.

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