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Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol Talks About Life Lessons

Since Jan. 1, Brian Niccol has been chief executive of Taco Bell Corp., the Irvine-based fast-food chain known for menu creations such as Doritos Locos Tacos and Crunchwrap Supremes. Since the first restaurant opened in 1962 in Downey, Taco Bell has expanded to about 6,000 locations and 180,000 employees nationwide.

First business: Niccol, 41, learned some of his earliest lessons while running a lawn-mowing business as a teenager with some friends. The group would get contracts to mow lawns that included residential yards and office park expanses. Early on, he learned that pricing varied by location, and to get a contract, marketing was a must. Niccol would take this idea with him to future jobs. “At the time you do it, you don’t realize how it’s influencing you going forward,” he said. “I think it carries on with you in the subconscious.”

Tech savvy: Technology changed rapidly in the early to mid-1990s while Niccol attended Ohio’s Miami University. During his freshman year, he used a Brother word processor. By his senior year, he had an email address and could make a website. The quickly evolving tools made an impression on him and eventually played a major role at each of his companies. “Technology, if it provides a service and can solve the stress points or anxiety points, people will adopt it in a big way,” Niccol said.

Fresh take: After graduating from college in 1996 with an engineering degree, Niccol took a job at Procter & Gamble Co. to work in brand management. One of his more memorable projects was a Scope mouthwash campaign to send an animated kiss via email — something that had never been done. From that campaign, he said he learned the necessity of taking risks to keep brands young and relevant. “What I’ve always seen is the brands that have a youthful mindset, a youthful vigor, they have a great value proposition,” he said. While working at Procter & Gamble, Niccol earned an MBA from the University of Chicago.

The pizza business: In 2005, Niccol moved to Yum Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC. Two years later, he was named chief marketing officer of Pizza Hut and eventually rose to general manager for Pizza Hut USA. At the time, the company was mulling the idea of selling pizzas online, something done only by a company in New Zealand. Niccol thought online ordering had two big benefits — convenience and accuracy — and decided to try it out. “Today, all the big pizza companies are huge in the online space,” he said. “It just shows the power of technology.”

Read more: Los Angeles Times


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