Chipotle's Chief People Officer Marissa Andrada Reveals Her Two Key Secrets To HR Success

Courtesy of Marissa Andrada

In Bustle's Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice — from the best guidance they've ever gotten, to what they're still figuring out. Here, Marissa Andrada of Chipotle shares her insights on bringing a company's culture to life, how she pumps herself up for presentations, and the importance of living an integrated life.

Name a brand that you love, and odds are Marissa Andrada, Chipotle's Chief People Officer, is partially responsible for your obsession. Andrada has been essential to crafting teams everywhere from Pizza Hut to Universal Studios, from Red Bull to GameStop, from Kate Spade to Starbucks, essentially going through the full list of millennial fever dream companies before landing on the beloved fast-casual restaurant's leadership team in 2018. But no matter the company her career has taken her, the heart of her work has always come down to two things: the people, and what they stand for.

"How do you bring a culture to life? I always believe the first thing is that it's a reflection of leadership, and it's also reflection of the purpose of the company," Andrada tells Bustle. "And for us, it is cultivating a better world. And the way we've been able to codify our culture is around identifying values that we all align to and then threading all those values throughout everything we do."

Andrada, a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from the Philippines before she was born, shares with Bustle that this career path wasn't always in the cards for her. In fact, given her childhood love of math and science, her parents expected her to become a medical doctor. Arguably, she become a people doctor instead.

"HR can be really strategic because of two things. One is if a company is trying to accomplish whatever objectives it is, what HR can do is partner with leadership to really help them understand, do you have the right leadership capability to drive that? Do we have the right leaders? Are they capable? Do they know what they're doing? And then, are we organized in the right way?" Andrada says. "And then, as important, how do you drive culture? Culture meaning, what is this company doing through leaders to inspire and motivate people to get all the work done? And so those are really broad strokes. I always tell people those are my secrets to HR. That's how I got into it."

These secrets of Andrada's have been essential in a career's worth of working with leadership, and in her commitment alongside Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol to create a more diverse leadership team representative of the company's values. Here, she shares with Bustle the advice that got her there, her tricks for pumping herself up, and what her busy days look like behind the scenes.

What do you need advice on?

MA: Oh gosh, I need advice on how to make sure that I'm living an integrated life. I'm always needing coaching and advice on how do I keep that balance and not lose myself. And for me, when I'm passionate about something, I'm all in. So the advice I need is to not lose my own balance and not take care of myself.

How do you pump yourself up before a big meeting or presentation?

MA: So it depends on what the presentation is. I think about our most recent big meetings we've had — we've had all of our field leaders together, and that's about 500 people. And then back in September, we had all of our general managers together, and that was about 5,000 people. And so there are two ways I prop myself up: One is you've got to spend time, even recent time with these people. As soon as a week or a few days before the meeting, just to understand what's top of mind for them, understand what's important to them — and that is a reflection of what's going to be top of mind when they walk into that meeting, and their expectations for leaders.

But right into the presentation or right before, I love to put my notes away and not look at them. I find it's really important to actually switch off and think about something completely different. So I'll read a random article about something having nothing to do with the meeting. And the other thing, too, is I love listening to classical music. I don't know what it is. It just calms me before I go into a presentation. I think I need that to get pumped up.

How to do you turn your brain off?

MA: There is one hour in the day to me that is really sacred, which is right when I wake up. It's easy to go to bed with all these thoughts of "What's next?" and "What am I doing?", et cetera. I find that when I wake up, the way I turn my brain off instead of just going right into it is I get up and take my dog for a walk. I take her back home after 30 minutes. Then I load up and head off to the office — there's a gym right next to the office, and I work out for 45 minutes. I also find that when you're in this zone of just focusing on yourself, and whether it's doing the cardio or lifting weights, I think it's a good way of just kind of rejuvenating and not having to think about anything. I think for me, that just gets me settled for what's next for the day. And then it's amazing that once you kind of keep that switch "off," once you're back on, so many new ideas just pop up.

What is the worst advice you've ever received?

MA: I've gotten so much bad advice. I think about having worked for a leader who told me not to be so ambitious about my career. And he goes, "Marissa, you're too ambitious, you need to slow down, you shouldn't expect too much, this is a learning opportunity." All of which is great. Yes, everything I think should be a learning opportunity. But why I say it's the worst advice is then a week later he was talking about another person that kind of was my in my peer set, and he was like, "Oh, he's really good. He's so ambitious. He takes care of business." And I'm thinking, but you just told me a week ago not to be so ambitious about my career, and yet you're praising someone because he's so ambitious about his career. So I'd say that's the worst advice — no one should ever dictate what you think or how you feel, how you roll, you know? I think the role of a leader is to inspire confidence in others that they can do whatever they want.

What was your backup plan?

MA: My backup plan would have been marketing. And I think what I do still today is marketing. Because how do you bring brand to life? You know, there's a lot, from a consumer standpoint — how do you bring a brand to life through people? At the end of the day with these consumer-facing brands, especially where there's a guest experience, you've got to bring it to life through the people experience. You've got to treat your people well so that they treat people well. To me, that's marketing — that would have been my backup plan.

What's on your to-do list?

MA: We recently moved from New York back to Newport Beach, California and so there's a lot of things to do at home, like finish decorating, finish organizing. I want to learn a new language. So there's things to do, but then things for me. We're heading to Italy this summer. My husband can speak Italian — we're going to also be in Paris, he can speak French as well. So I want to learn the language well enough that I don't have to speak English in doing some basic transactions while we're visiting. That's kind of the to-do list of just fun things, and then just boring things like, you know, organizing your house and decorating it.

What advice would you give your younger self?

MA: I was so serious, so observant, always looking up at other people saying "I want to be you someday" that I was too busy trying to model myself after other people's success. Like, "she's successful because of X" and "he's successful because of Y." And I wish I knew back then, right out of college, that it's OK to be you. I think I've been able to grow in my career and take on more responsibility because I've been really clear about who I am, what's important to me, and how I roll. What I learned was you can still be yourself, you know, even moving up in your career — that doesn't mean you need to turn into a robot, and I thought that's what success equalled. I wished my younger self knew that because I probably would have enjoyed life a lot sooner in my career.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.