Why Did Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc's Founder Seem so Nervous on TV?

On "The Today Show," Steve Ells makes apologetic statements about the E. coli incidents at Chipotle.

Motley Fool Staff
Motley Fool Staff
Dec 20, 2015 at 12:16PM
Consumer Goods

The apparently camera-shy Steve Ells, founder and co-CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG), appeared recently on The Today Show to talk about the company's response to recent E. coli outbreaks.

In this clip, The Motley Fool's Chris Hill and Alex Scherer speculate why Ells seemed so uncomfortable, why he likely chose this medium to deliver his message, and what this means for investors.

A full transcript follows the video.


This podcast was recorded on Dec. 10, 2015.

Chris Hill: We probably have to start with a quick word about Chipotle, because I made the comment in the studio yesterday that I would feel better as an investor, as a shareholder of Chipotle, if the CEOs were out in front. Where is Monty Moran, where is Steve Ells? I don't know that anyone in Chipotle actually listens to MarketFoolery...

Alex Scherer: Clearly they do.

Hill: But Steve Ells, the founder and co-CEO of Chipotle was on The Today Show this morning.

Scherer: Amongst your dozens of loyal listeners is, apparently, Steven Ells.

Hill: I'm pretty sure Steve Ells has a lot more on his mind than listening to MarketFoolery. You saw a little bit of the interview.

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Scherer: I did.

Hill: You felt like he did the job he needed to do.

Scherer: It was fine. I'm told that Steve Ells really hates getting in front of a camera. He's the founder and a co-CEO, but among his co-CEO duties traditionally is not marketing the company to the consumer base, getting in front of TV cameras. But that being said, he did fine. I think you pointed out, he looked maybe a little bit awkward, and perhaps wasn't at his best; but I think he did the job he needed to do, and I think that, given the depth of loyalty of Chipotle's fan base, he did what he needed to do, and we can move forward from here.

Hill: It looks like Wall Street agrees with that sentiment, because the stock is up today, and certainly all of the headlines in the wake of the interview are highlighting the fact that he talked about how he was deeply sorry -- his words -- how they're working to make Chipotle the safest restaurant in the world.

I do think that his lack of ease on camera was working against him a little bit at times. And it's one of those things where, look, it's an odd thing to be comfortable on camera. It's an odd skill, let's put it that way. And as investors in public companies, we don't need our CEOs to be great on television. Some of them are.

I think Howard Schultz is great on television. But Steve Ells, he's not great on TV. My only concern as a shareholder, when I was watching it, was, "I think some people are going to look at his nervousness at times and think, it looks like he's fumbling for his words, when in fact, he's just a little nervous because he's on TV."

Scherer: I get that, and I think maybe that's a reason why he was on The Today Show talking to the customer base, as opposed to on Bloomberg or CNBC talking to the investor base, because this is a story that's not about placating the shareholders, it's a story about getting consumers and customers back into the stores, feeling comfortable that the company is on top of the issues, and cares deeply about making the stores a safe place to eat.