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OPINIONFinancing

Big winner in Chipotle’s stock surge? Steve Ells

The value of the company founder’s stock holdings is up $167 million since he decided to step down as CEO, says RB’s The Bottom Line.
Photograph courtesy of Chipotle Mexican Grill

the bottom line

Late in 2017, Steve Ells decided to step aside as the CEO of the company he founded, Chipotle Mexican Grill. The job went to Brian Niccol the next year.

Few people have benefited more from that move than Ells himself—who is $167.3 million richer today, at least on paper, thanks to the surge in Chipotle’s stock value, according to an analysis done for Restaurant Business by financial services site Sentieo.

That’s based on Chipotle’s stock price at closing Monday. The Newport Beach, Calif.-based company hit a record high Monday, and has now officially recovered all of the value it lost in the aftermath of its 2015 food safety outbreaks.

Chipotle’s sales plunged in the wake of those outbreaks, and so did the company’s stock price value. The company lost more than half of its valuation at points over the ensuing two years.

There were a lot of losers during that period, given that Chipotle’s stock was one of the hottest momentum stocks on Wall Street.

Under Niccol, Chipotle overhauled staff, completely changed the way it marketed itself and embraced things such as delivery and loyalty. It also moved its headquarters. The company has reported strong sales this year, and its stock has responded.

Chipotle has officially regained its status as a Wall Street darling.

Ells has been a quiet presence over the past year. But he remains Chipotle’s executive chairman and is still a major shareholder of the company he founded.

According to Chipotle’s 2018 proxy document, Ells owned 383,339 shares of Chipotle stock as of March 2018, or 1.37% of the company’s shares at the time.

Chipotle’s stock was in the hole back then and worth just $123.8 million.

As of Friday, that stock had surged to $752 per share. The value of Ells’ stock went right along with it—to $291.1 million.

To be sure, Ells simply recovered value lost when the company’s stock tanked from $750 per share at peak in 2015 to below $300 at points.

And there are certainly many other winners.

Maybe none have been bigger than Pershing Square Capital, the hedge fund run by noted activist investor Bill Ackman.

It was Ackman who made a massive bet on Chipotle in 2016, buying up nearly 10% of the company’s stock for about $1.2 billion.

Pershing has been selling off much of its holdings this year, though it still owns 1.8 million shares in Chipotle, or about 6.4% of the company.

Based on the value of those shares, as well as the value from the stock sales, Pershing’s investment is up 51%, or about $614 million.

One other person has likely made out well from the return of chipotle’s stock: Monty Moran, the company’s former co-CEO who left the company in late 2016.

At the time, Moran owned more shares than Ells: 487,386, according to SEC filings. Assuming he kept that stock, its value is up about 80%.

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