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'You never really know': Brian Niccol reflects on his road to Chipotle CEO

The road to career success is ever-winding.

Before Brian Niccol was the guy helping to blow away earnings estimates as CEO at Chipotle and enjoying life as the person who created Taco Bell's "Live Mas" legendary branding, he was a recent college graduate in the branding department at consumer products giant P&G in the mid-1990s.

Niccol says one of his earliest assignments — working on P&G's Scope Mouthwash account and reportedly breaking new ground by sending an animated kiss via email — set the groundwork of skills Niccol would tap while leading marketing at Pizza Hut and Taco Bell before becoming CEO of Taco Bell and then CEO of Chipotle.

"It's one of those things that you never really know where your journey is going to go," Niccol recalled at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit. "But I was very fortunate to get my first job at Procter & Gamble. I got to work with a lot of great people. They took the time to invest in me so that I became I think much better at marketing and general management skills. And I've taken that with me down the road and you know, here I am at Chipotle."

Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol during a special sneak peek employee preview party for the launch of the Quesalupa on Feberuary 5, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol during a special sneak peek employee preview party for the launch of the Quesalupa on Feberuary 5, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Chipotle shareholders are surely thankful for Niccol's career training.

Niccol entered as CEO of Chipotle on March 5, 2018 with two strategic imperatives. First, stabilize a business financially rocked by a E.Coli outbreaks. Second, relaunch the brand to concerned consumers.

The now 48-year old executive has accomplished all of that and more, shepherding innovations from new menu items (at long last) such as cauliflower rice and quesadillas to testing robots out that make tortilla chips. Niccol has also supercharged Chipotle's store count to more than 3,000 locations and is taking aim at opening more drive-thru spots to better cater to customers.

"One thing I did discover while I was at P&G— I had the opportunity to work on Pringles— is I loved working in the space of food," Niccol said. "And you know, it just resonated with me. So fast forward and here we are today."

Since being announced as Chipotle's CEO on February 13, 2018, Chipotle shares have skyrocketed 497%, compared to a 53% rise for the S&P 500 and 55% rise for McDonald's stock.

"We continue to view Chipotle as one of the most compelling growth stocks in the industry given the strong top-line (unit growth and same-store sales) and leading margin profile," Goldman Sachs analyst Jared Garber wrote in a client note this month.

Niccol noted that while he will never forget those early Scope mouthwash days, his priorities have changed a bit over time.

"You know, I still strongly encourage you to use Scope Mouthwash," he quipped, "But obviously, I'm a much bigger fan of guacamole and burritos these day."

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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