An example of how successful startup founders can build sustainable ecosystems in Upstate New York
Believing his achievement depends on a community of people working together, Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya expressed his gratitude last week by sharing his company with those who have helped build it.
The New York Times reports that 2,000 full-time employees received an ownership stake in Chobani that could make some of them millionaires when the yogurt company goes public or is sold. The announcement was made at the company’s plant in Upstate New York. Ulukaya said the goal is to pass along the wealth they have helped create since launching the company in 2005. Chobani was started with a loan from the Small Business Administration and five employees. Today Chobani employs thousands of people worldwide.
“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,” Ulukaya wrote in a letter to his staff.
The shares given to Chobani employees are coming directly from Ulukaya. They can be sold if the company is sold or goes public. Employees can hang onto the shares if they leave or retire, or the company will buy them back.
“Now they’ll be working to build the company even more and building their future at the same time,” Ulukaya told the New York Times.
Ulukaya’s success story and actions to help his employees is something Upstate entrepreneur and startup investor Martin Babinec can relate to. Babinec is the founder of publicly traded TriNet (NYSE: TNET) and Upstate Venture Connect, a nonprofit that connects Upstate NY entrepreneurs to the resources needed to succeed. He says building sustainable ecosystems is what will keep communities growing because new companies are the real job creators in a given economy.
“One of my proudest professional moments was sharing the wealth of TriNet with its employees,” said Babinec. “When the company went public in 2014, some of them became millionaires overnight. Not only did this allow them to protect their families and future, but they were able to create their own companies and invest in other startups in their communities.”
Outside of committing 10% of his company’s value to his employees, Ulukaya has been a supporter of a higher minimum wage, and has established a 401(k) plan for employees. He has also hired hundreds of refugees, and signed the Giving Pledge, by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates to encourage billionaires to give away much of their wealth.
A spokesperson for the company said Chobani has more than $1 billion in annual revenue. The amount each employee will receive depends on their tenure with the company and the role they play. As of 2016, Chobani is valued at $3 billion, making it Upstate’s tastiest unicorn.