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File photo, Chipotle Mexican Grill ...
Stephen Brashear, Associated Press file
In this Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, file photo, Chipotle Mexican Grill founder and CEO Steve Ells pauses for a moment during an interview with The Associated Press in a Chipotle restaurant in Seattle. The company said Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, that Ells will step down from the CEO position as soon as it finds a replacement. Ells will then become executive chairman.

Chipotle Mexican Grill’s outgoing CEO, Steve Ells, could make as much as $2.9 million a year in salary and bonuses in his new role as executive chairman of the fast-casual restaurant’s board, in addition to stock options, according to company filings.

That’s still a decline for Ells, who founded the company in 1993. Last year, bonuses on top of a base salary of about $1.5 million pushed Ells’ pay to $15.7 million last year. Past years, Ells earned even more, such as in 2014 when Ells’ earned $28.2 million. Investors became critical of the high salaries.

The company’s hunt for a new CEO, which was announced Wednesday, comes a year after investors forced Chipotle to expand its board to 12 members — more than half of whom have been appointed in the past year. The expanded board was supported by activist investor Bill Ackman, whose Pershing Square Capital hedge fund took a nearly 10 percent stake in September 2016.

But the company hasn’t quite recovered from the outbreaks of food-borne illness in 2015, a $30 million data-breach liability and missed earnings. In announcing the CEO search, Ells said, “we need to execute better to ensure our future success.”

Ells’ new employment agreement, which goes into effect after a new CEO is hired, offers Ells a $900,000 base salary with up to a 225 percent bonus for meeting annual targets. He also gets a one-time grant to purchase 175,000 shares of company common stock.

A noncompete clause is part of the deal. Ells cannot be directly or indirectly involved in any business that would compete with Chipotle in the U.S. for two years.

The company now operates more than 2,370 restaurants worldwide, with another 130 or more expected to open in 2018. Chipotle’s shares rose 1 percent Friday to close at $307.59.

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