Hamdi Ulukaya, Kurdish CEO and founder of Chobani Yoghurt, a company in the United States, surprised his employees this week by announcing he was giving them a 10% share of the enterprise. This announcement could make some of the workers millionaires.
In a letter on Tuesday morning, Ulukaya wrote to his company’s employees: “How we built this company matters to me, but how we grow it matters, even more, I want you not only to be a part of this growth—I want you to be the driving force of it. To share in our success, to be rewarded by it.”
The number of shares given to each employee is commensurate to the length of time they have worked at the company. On average, the shares are worth around $150,000. But some workers, with many years of service at Chobani Yoghurt, became millionaires overnight.
The son of a Kurdish shepherd, who has his roots in Northern Kurdistan in Turkey, wrote in the letter: “This isn’t 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.”
Similar employee-stake deals have happened before. One at Apple, for example, made long time workers at the company billionaires. However, such arrangements are rare in the food manufacturing industry. It is more commonly seen in Silicon Valley’s tech companies, which struggle to pay employees in their early days. (Rûdaw)
The founder of Chobani Hamdi Ulukaya will donate most of his wealth, at least 700 million dollars, to help the Kurdish refugees as well as refugees from all around the world.
With his statement on Thursday, Ulukaya announced that he is going to join the Giving Pledge, the funding system the riches donate half or their wealth, by building a new foundation called Tent. “I have always planned to give most of what I had. Growing up, I watched my mother give to those who needed and it came from the most amazing place in her heart,” Ulukaya said.
One of the biggest American companies Chobani, founded in 2005, started making Greek-style yogurt in 2007, in Upstate New York. Within his family’s farming background, Ulukaya used his experiences to create a great opportunity to build Chobani.
Ulukaya said what brought him to the USA was to learn English, but seeing the great opportunities in the USA made him stay here after school. “In 1994, I came to New York to study English and later became drawn to the idea that anyone can start something in America—all you needed was a dream and the willingness to take a risk,” Ulukaya said.
Leaving his home and making the USA his permanent country motivated Ulukaya to start Chobani. “I grew up in a Kurdish dairy-farming family in Eastern Turkey. Anatolia is a bridge between the East and the West and has a rich history that you see in the faces of its people. The hardworking, communal culture shaped me as a person,” he said. “The small farming towns in Upstate New York reminded me of Anatolia. The people, like the shepherds I grew up with, lived off the land and gave what they could.
Ulukaya continued with what he learned from his family. He was able to do more with that experience. “After a few years, I took a loan from the Small Business Administration, bought an old yogurt plant and brought a small group of us together to make the real, wholesome yogurt of my childhood,” he said. “We called the company Chobani, ‘shepherd’ in Turkish, to put the hardworking, giving spirit of farmers into the heart of the company.”
Chobani was a small factory located in Upstate New York and then lead Ulukaya to be one of the richest people in America. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires List of 2014, Ulukaya’s personal wealth is over 1.4 billion dollars.
In 2014, Ulukaya was invited to the White House and called a member of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE).
“From the start, I wanted Chobani to be committed to making better food for more people—and to stand for something even bigger than the natural food we made,” Ulukaya said. “Since day one, we have given 10% of our profits to charity through the Chobani Foundation and stayed true to our mission to make food the right way, and make it available to all. Building Chobani, I found that the real power of entrepreneurship was the impact you can have on communities. Ultimately, Chobani’s journey proved that if you have the right mindset, the sky is the limit.”
Remembering his real story is what encourages him to get involved with a new donation organization, Ulukaya says. Knowing his own people who are being attacked by the ISIS, in the city of Kobani located in northern Syria, and Iraq, in need of everything after they had to flee from their home, Shepherd’s Gift Foundation of Chobani donated 2 million dollars for them through United Nation, UNHCR, in 2014.
After building the Tent, Ulukaya is willing to donate half his wealth, over 700 million dollars to buıld a new charity organization for the refugees in Kurdistan as well as all around the world.
“Today, I dedicate my signing of the Giving Pledge to my mother and I am publicly committing the majority of my personal wealth—along with everything else I can do—to help refugees and help bring an end to this humanitarian crisis.”
“My story, like so many others, is only possible in America. The magic and power of the American dream is something I believe should be available to everyone—and is part of my hope for a modern Turkey and for entrepreneurs around the word,” Ulukaya said. “In the decade since I started Chobani, dramatic changes have occurred around the world. One result has been a shocking increase in the number of people made homeless by the conflict. Today, more than 50 million people—most of them women and children—are living as refugees or displaced people, robbed of life’s opportunities by war, persecution, and natural disasters.”
Ulukaya follows Bill Gates and others who have started the Giving Pledge. “I believe that as people who have been blessed with opportunity in our own lives we must give hope to others,” he said. “I thank Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for providing the inspiration for this important commitment and hope that my commitment to the Giving Pledge will in turn inspire others to do the same.”
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