Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs | August 2015 | By Robert Thomas

Start to Finish: Brian Niccol

CEO, Taco Bell
Brian Niccol is chief executive at QSR Mexican leader Taco Bell.
Brian Niccol, CEO, Taco Bell Taco Bell

I’ve always been a big fan of food. Before I was with Taco Bell and in the quick-serve industry, I had a boss who helped me get comfortable with the opportunity to challenge the “way it was done.” Rather, could something be designed differently or packaged differently? How can it be better or strike a new chord? Why have we always done it this way? Facing those questions and challenges head-on leads to innovation, and suddenly you’re innovating in a space that you didn’t think possible. Food is one of those spaces where that happens often, and that’s what got me excited about this industry in the first place. It still does.

While this business is about creating and making great food, it’s also about the people. I don’t think a lot of folks out there realize just how much this is a people business. I love being around people, hearing stories and experiences. Learning what excites—or disappoints—consumers is something I’m very passionate about, and food is the ultimate tool that either enhances or ruins those emotions.

I firmly believe that the way our brand is today will not be the way it is five years from now. When you’re challenging what people are used to, you’re really challenging a way to do something better. That’s a constant source of motivation as CEO of Taco Bell. I also try to encourage the same sort of thinking from my team. I like giving those great people the flexibility to take a risk, and maybe even fail in the end. In today’s industry, everyone is trained to find the “right” answer that they are afraid to do something different. I’ve got a team that knows, should they come up with the wrong answer, I’m with them and we’ve all learned something. It’s an adage I’ve cultivated with my children, too: “It’s not about being perfect. It’s about giving it a try.”

I want to be the brand that people know is more than good-tasting, affordable, Mexican-inspired food. As CEO, my job is to create a stronger bond for those who work for Taco Bell and ensure the bond between our brand products and the customers we serve.

What was your first job?


When did you first enter the quick-service industry?

In 2005 with Pizza Hut.

What is your favorite menu item at Taco Bell?

Cheesy Gordita Crunch.

What is your favorite restaurant or type of food excluding Taco Bell?

I love Mexican food and great barbecue.

What are some of your interests outside of the business?

Photography, golf, baseball, American history.

Which menu item or operational strategy are you most proud of?

Live Más positioning, Doritos Locos Tacos, mobile ordering.

What is the biggest risk you’ve taken as CEO?

Taco Bell Breakfast launch and championing an innovation culture.

Who are some leaders that inspire you?

My dad.

What is the best piece of advice quick-serve executives should hear?

Consumer-driven innovation is a must and needs to happen everywhere in the business, but it cannot come at the expense of executing the fundamentals.


Add new comment