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The Turkish Businessman Who Made Americans Fall in Love with Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt
The CEO of Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya. Credit: Chobani

The CEO of Greek yogurt company Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya has popularized Greek yogurt for the next generation of consumers. Now his company has officially filed an initial public offering to be listed on the Nasdaq exchange, making the request as of last Wednesday.

Chobani has transformed one of Greece’s signature dishes into a staple of the American diet, establishing a hip, health-conscious image for the dairy product that rings true to the yogurt’s ingredients.

Ulukaya is a Turkish businessman who launched the company in 2005 in upstate New York. He belongs to a family of Kurdish dairy farmers who hail from the village of Ilic in the province of Erzincan. “Chobani” is Turkish for “shepherd.”

Ulukaya immigrated to America in 1994 to attend school. Just over a decade later, he decided to start his yogurt business, in a region of the country that had dominated the industry since the 1800’s. Chobani quickly ascended to the top of the industry, reaching $1 billion in sales by 2012. The company now has facilities in New York, Idaho, and Australia.

The company submitted its initial paperwork confidentially with the Securities and Exchange Commission in July this past Summer, and sources speculated to Reuters that an IPO could value the company at $10 billion.

Now the company has officially filed to be publicly traded on the Nasdaq exchange under “CHO,” with its revenue climbing 5.2% to $1.4 billion between 2019 and 2020.

Chobani gives all full-time employees a stake in the company

Chobani introduced an employee benefit program in 2016 that allows every full-time employee to have a stake in the company. That stake will now represent shares in CHO. These shares currently comprise a 12.5% stake in the yogurt company.

Ulukaya has been praised just as much for his company’s corporate structure and employee culture as he has for his success in the food and beverage industry. The company has worked to include underrepresented people amongst its workforce, with roughly 30% of its employees being immigrants and refugees. Chobani also works with translators and other accommodations to help people integrate into the company.

“Ask for permission,” Ulukaya said in a 2019 TedTalk. “If you are right with your people, if you are right with your community, if you are right with your product, you will be more profitable, you will be more innovative, you will have more passionate people working for you and a community that supports you…This is the difference between profit and true wealth.”

When Chobani first rolled out its employee benefits program, Ulukaya surprised all 2,000 of his full-time workers with envelopes containing the news and information regarding their 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,” the Turkish CEO told the New York Times“Now they’ll be working to build the company even more and building their future at the same time.”


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