The Corner

Culture

Chobani Yogurt Founder Offers Employees the Deal of a Lifetime

I eat a Chobani yogurt nearly every day — preferably mango flavored — but never thought once about where the company came from.

Today I learned a heartwarming story about the yogurt I’ve become so devoted to. In a nutshell, Chobani founder & CEO Hamdi Ulukaya had a dream and he made it come true — but it was only possible in America.

A Turkish immigrant, he started the company with just a few employees in 2005, and last year raked in $1.6 billion in sales. It’s now the top-selling yogurt in the U.S. — and is the brand that put greek yogurt on the map.

Now, Ulukaya is passing the benefits of that dream down to his employees in the form of stock for his 2,000 full-time workerswith shares of a 10 percent stake in the company. 

“I’ve built something I never thought would be such a success, but I cannot think of Chobani being built without all these people,” Ulukaya said. “Now they’ll be working to build the company even more and building their future at the same time.”

CEOs and executives at big companies frequently get a bad rap as greedy or overpaid, especially in the heated Democratic primary where Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders duke it out for who can slam the “rich” more harshly.

Many CEOs and business owners such built their companies from the ground up. In Ulukaya’s case, his success now allows him to make this wonderfully generous investment in his employees.

This is just one more reason why we must encourage entrepreneurship, decrease regulations, and not overtax businesses as they are getting started. Many are discouraged or don’t make it thanks to an unfriendly, overly difficult regulatory atmosphere.

How many companies may never exist to create these important jobs and give back to their employees because of government policies that penalize business building?

Ulukaya is reportedly worth $1.82 billion and has signed a pledge to give away half his wealth, part of the Giving Pledge program started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

He surprised the staff with the news this week but was quick to clarify it was not a gift.   

It’s a mutual promise to work together with a shared purpose and responsibility. To continue to create something special and of lasting value . . . How we built this company matters to me, but how we grow it matters even more. I want you to be a part of this growth — I want you to be the driving force of it.

This is the beauty of the free market, which has allowed Chobani to thrive and given Ulukaya the opportunity to grow a successful business. Now, that success is improving the lives of 2,000 more people.

Imagine how many more could make this investment if we continue to keep the doors of opportunity for entrepreneurship and business creation open.