Burritos vs. Bonds – Chipotle crushes Pimco

Chipotle

One of the best things to happen in my family’s travel life was the moment several years ago that we discovered a Chipotle Mexican Grill at the exact midpoint of our drive to go skiing in Vermont. After years of suffering through the usual fast food choices, we were thrilled to find there was a tastier and healthier alternative on our route.

Since then we’ve eaten at this same Albany area Chipotle about 100 times. The food always has been excellent — fresh, fast and delicious. And at least as important, the experience has been fun as we interact (very briefly) with cheerful and outgoing staffers there. They always manage to show an interest in their work and their customers.

I’ll always remember the time the manager recognized us as regulars and stopped by to say hi as he made his was through the restaurant. He was clearly interested in us and the rest of his customers and wanted to make sure we were having a good experience. To top it off, as he returned to the kitchen we saw him stop and wash his hands before getting back to the food. We felt well cared for in all respects.

Since then, my family and I have always felt there is something special about Chipotle. Happy employees are one of the sure signs of a good company. It’s one of our most admired companies because they always seem to treat their customers, their employees and their food well.

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot more about Chipotle. First, there was the buzz around their ground-breaking dramatic series “Farmed and Dangerous,” a short soap opera that seeks to build popular support for well-raised food (contrast this with the barrage of TV commercials most fast food chains release touting their latest Franken-food concoction).

Most interesting to me was this recent story about Chipotle’s management culture. Turns out the entire company is based on attracting the best employees at the entry level and then training and developing them to rise through the ranks. Managers are accepted into Chipotle’s special leadership program based on how well they treat and promote their employees. It’s a management system that deeply values people. One result is Chipotle attracts and keeps higher-quality employees who are focused on the employee experience instead of process or product metrics so prevalent in the rest of their industry.

No wonder our favorite Chipotle staffers seem happier than your average fast-food worker.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is Pimco, the enormous (and enormously successful) asset management firm. As detailed in this recent New York Times story, that record of achievement is endangered by a poisonous culture that drives off talented leaders (including the man most people expected would become the next CEO) led by a notoriously hard-to-get-along-with leader.

Not coincidentally, investors have withdrawn more than $48 billion from Pimco in the year ending in February.

At Chipotle, leaders rise only if they look out for the welfare of their colleagues. At Pimco, the leader rose at the expense of the welfare of his colleagues. Chipotle is growing fast; Pimco is shrinking fast.

Again, culture has real-world impact, be it burritos or bonds.

Image: Chipotle Mexican Grill

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