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The Best Days Are Ahead

Published December 13, 2019

It can be scary to start over. Especially when it’s a long process to start over. My journey of beginning again started over 7 years ago and it is still in progress. It’s been a long, long road and that road has been filled with many obstacles, and then when there weren’t obstacles there wasn’t a road at all.  It was an uncharted path and one I had never been on before.

But before the opportunity came to start over there was another journey I had been on for almost 10 years in my career with Chipotle Mexican Grill. I haven’t really felt at home professionally since leaving Chipotle and I have struggled with that. It was my decision to leave and it was for all the right reasons, beginning with my family. But while it was the right decision, it was still hard. The company of course is different now, but it doesn’t erase the amazing things we did. And to be fair, it is still a pretty amazing organization.

We built something really special at Chipotle and it was built on the vision of changing the way the world thought about and ate fast food. We all rallied around that vision. You could argue that we accomplished that vision. In the early days we were a small organization but we were nimble and we could move quickly, adapt and change to stay ahead of the curve. And we did just that.

We quietly built an organization that was profitable, had a strong people culture, served amazing food, and at the heart of it, it was also really good. We defined the fast casual movement and I was so blessed to be a part of that organization for 10 years.

The unintended consequence of building something like that was a lot of other people who could write a check started restaurant companies and said they wanted to be like Chipotle. There have been many organizations who have achieved varying levels of success but have not been able to achieve the magic that Chipotle had. The biggest reason they couldn’t replicate that success is they weren’t willing to invest ahead of the business and build a people culture as a foundation for their organization. They didn’t connect that the success that Chipotle had in those first 20 years was rooted in the culture they created and their willingness to invest in their people.

The reality is that great food, a big name, and lots of financial resources aren’t enough. Without creating the infrastructure to support growth you get a watered down brand with mediocre experiences that don’t excite people and build strong brand loyalty. They also don’t appeal to top performers who want to contribute at a high level. Those brands with a great idea for a concept are hitting a wall and will eventually become irrelevant.

A second consequence of the Chipotle experience was personal. As I got back in the game in 2013 and tried to find a place to plug into an organization, I was left wanting for the culture I had been a part of. I knew it wasn’t going to be automatic but I was willing to build it. And for a short time at one company we made some headway but in the end, there wasn’t enough support the commitment we had made to our people. And then there were a couple of smaller organizations who said one thing and did another. That left me wanting for something real. Something true. Something good, that could be great.

So, now I find myself on this uncharted path where I remain more convinced than ever that culture matters and am excited to find an organization where I can create a strong culture that delivers industry leading results in every key performance indicator.