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In 1998 McDonald’s made an investment in a small Denver-based Mexican diner called Chipotle. Huge deal for a new ‘fast casual’ restaurant chain with just 14 locations. Right away, McDonald’s started instructing the new investee on how to succeed. Not the kind of advice to sniff at. Except that Chipotle did. They said ‘no’ again and again. Risking the relationship. Risking the investment. Risking failure. McDonald's wanted Chipotle to change its name to Chipotle Fresh Mexican Grill. Chipotle said ‘no.’ Well — technically, they said “That's a bunch of you-know-what. Why would we do that? It doesn't make any sense.” (this was the founder and CEO Steve Ells’s response, according to Bloomberg) McDonald’s wanted Chipotle to add drive-throughs to its restaurants and to start serving breakfast. Chipotle said ‘no.’ "Bless their hearts, they had a lot of great suggestions... But we just really didn't do any of that," — says Chipotle COO Gretchen Selfridge. McDonald’s advised Chipotle to sell additional items such as cookies at checkouts: easy money. Chipotle said ‘no.’ Steve Ells figured they wouldn’t be making better cookies than anyone else, and he didn’t want to serve anything unless they were the best at making it. And when Chipotle opened in new locations, McDonald's advised them to change the menu to cater to local tastes: put barbecue sauce in the burritos served in Kansas City, or add green chilli peppers to the New Mexico menu. Chipotle said… you get it. Chipotle spent eight years taking McDonald's money — while constantly saying ‘no’ to any attempts to change its model. As a result of their not-always-harmonious relationship, by 2006 McDonald's had fully divested itself from the burrito chain. But by this point Chipotle had grown from 14 to nearly 500 locations. Basically, they were doing okay without McDonalds. And they had held on to their values. Win/win. Chipotle execs attribute much of their success to doing things differently — and in many cases, that meant saying ‘no’ to advice from McDonald's. So next time someone expects a ‘yes’ from you just because they are used to it, ask yourself: how about ‘no’?



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