Hamdi Ulukaya Hamdi Ulukaya

  • Owner, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Chobani, the #1-selling strained yogurt brand in the US

Biography

Hamdi Ulukaya (born October 26, 1972) is the owner, founder, Chairman, and CEO of Chobani, the #1-selling strained yogurt (Greek-style) brand in the United States. On April 26, 2016, Ulukaya announced to his employees that he would be giving them 10% of the shares in Chobani.

Originating from a dairy-farming family in a small village in Turkey, Ulukaya immigrated to the U.S. in 1994 to study English and took a few business courses as well. In an interview with CNN Money, Ulukaya explains that he was very serious about Kurdish rights and left Turkey due to the Turkish state's oppression of its Kurdish minority group. He started a modest feta-cheese factory in 2002 on the advice of his father.

His larger success came from taking a major risk: Ulukaya purchased a large, defunct yogurt factory in upstate New York in 2005, in a region that used to be the center of a dairy and cheese industry. With no prior experience in the yogurt business, he has created a yogurt empire, Chobani, with facilities in several states. It was valued at over $1 billion in annual sales in less than five years after launch, becoming the leading yogurt brand in the U.S. by 2011.

Ernst & Young named Ulukaya the World Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013. The success of his yogurt empire has made Ulukaya a billionaire and developed new employment in several regions. According to Forbes, his net worth as of 2016 is $1.92 billion.

Ulukaya has been noted both for his entrepreneurial skills and also his commitment to making affordable and nutritious foods using only natural ingredients. 

In addition to receiving awards for entrepreneurship, in April 2014 he was named by President Barack Obama as an inaugural member of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) initiative – 11 selected business leaders who will encourage entrepreneurship in the U.S. and abroad. Also in 2014, the Culinary Institute of America honored him with its Leadership Award (Augie Award) in the Health and Wellness category.

Ulukaya was a member of the Upstate Regional Advisory Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and he is a Vice Chair of the corporate fund board of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He is on the board of the Pathfinder Village (Community for Down Syndrome) Foundation in Edmeston, New York and The American Turkish Society in New York City.

He has delivered commencement addresses at institutions including the Culinary Institute of America, the Sage Colleges, and the University at Albany in New York, and has received honorary doctorate degrees from Colgate University, the Sage Colleges, and the University at Albany.

Awards

  • Featured on the cover of Fast Company in 2017 as a model for 21st century leadership
  • Named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2017
  • 2016 Women's Refugee Committee Voices of Courage Corporate Leadership Award 
  • 2015 UN Global Leadership Award
  • Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship (2014)
  • Culinary Institute of America Leadership Award for Health and Wellness (2014)
  • Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year 2013
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