Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani yogurt, is a good yogurt mogul who also made a lot of his yogurt minions rich today. May we all pressure our bosses to be more like him.
According to the New York Times, employees of his empire walked into work today, and were greeted by white envelopes informing them how many shares of the company they would be given. Some could be worth seven-figure sums.
Many young tech companies pay their early employees partly in equity while they’re still strapped for cash, but this is unusual because Chobani has already a huge success, with a valuation estimated at $3-5 billion as of two years ago. The value of those yogurt shares does not hinge as precariously on some potential future success the way it does for those techies. Even assuming the low end of that range, the average Chobani employee got shares worth $150,000 and, because the number of shares given tracked the time they’d spent at the company, the earliest employees could get a stake worth upwards of a cool million. (Employees will get their windfall once Chobani goes public or is sold; in the meantime, they can trade their shares on private markets.)
Whether the flavor of Chobani reigns supreme is a matter of taste—it sits a notch below Siggi’s and Fage for me—but we have good reason to admire Ulukaya. In part just because his company has done admirable work to shift U.S. yogurt consumption away from thin, sugary slurry shot into tubes for mobile use, and towards rich, yogurt-flavored yogurt, but also because he seems to genuinely care about his employees. After setting up a 401(k) program, he stressed about their participation: “I preached and nagged and tried to force them to do it,” he told the NYT. “Unfortunately, not all did, and I’ve continued to worry about them in retirement.”
Giving them 10% of his company could be his way of clearing his conscience. As far as anxiety relief goes, this feels like a beautiful coping mechanism; other billionaires should take note.
A 2013 New Yorker profile supplies more context on his style of leadership, which seems pretty benevolent even when he needs to pull the occasional wack move:
In New Berlin, Ulukaya has an almost cultlike aura; employees invariably refer to him by his first name. Christensen praised his boss’s generosity, noting that last summer Ulukaya took Chobani’s first five employees to London for the Olympics. (Chobani was a sponsor.) Every Thanksgiving, Christensen added, Ulukaya gives each employee a turkey and a bucket of feta. Christensen told me that, last December, employees at the factory had learned they would be expected to work on Christmas Day, to fulfill orders. This could have spoiled the employees’ festive season, but Ulukaya brought in a prime-rib dinner for everyone, as compensation for their lost holiday.
One of the surest ways to secure an employee’s loyalty to their company is to feed them delicious things. A bucket of feta might go a long way, but a bucket of cash would seal the deal.