Chobani’s success is rooted in
the classic American quest
BY CHRISTINA GUERRERO
WHEN HAMDI ULUKAYA, founder and CEO of Chobani, emigrated from Turkey in ;;;; to learn
English and continue college in New York,
he had never heard of the American
dream. But the dream became clear to him
over the last decade, as Ulukaya launched
Chobani, now the No. ;–selling Greek
yogurt brand in the United States. Chobani,
whose name is derived from the Turkish
word for “shepherd,” produces its yogurt in
three plants, located in South Edmeston,
New York; Twin Falls, Idaho; and South
Victoria, Australia. It was while working in
smaller U.S. towns and cities, such as South
Edmeston, Ulukaya says, that he realized
what the American dream was.
“What makes this country so special to
everywhere around the world is that inclusion. Is that everyone has a shot. Is that
everyone is welcomed as long as they are
an honorable member of the community,
that all they want to do is provide for their
families within the law, within community
rules and expectations, and be who you are
from your culture,” Ulukaya tells The
Connection from an inviting open room at
Chobani offices in New York City.
Ulukaya grew up in a Kurdish family of
generational nomadic farmers, who
mostly raised sheep and prepared cheese.
Ulukaya’s mother broke the succession by
sending him to boarding school at ;; years
old. Despite being home only for summer
and winter breaks, Ulukaya says his parents, now deceased, were an important
influence in his life.
“My father was a leader in the commu-
nity. People respected him a lot,” he says.
“And my mother was, of course, the center
of the household, center of the community.
She was the teacher; she was the deep
thinker; she was the, I would say, [center
of] sanity. She was quiet, but, you know,
she would set the tone in everybody. And
like any mother, she sacrificed a lot for her
children. I always say, whatever I am is
because of my mother.”
Ulukaya attended Ankara University,
in the capital of Turkey, with ambitions of
going into politics, but was persuaded by
others to apply for college in the U.S. He
first attended Adelphi University in Long
Island and later University at Albany, State
University of New York, while working on
a nearby dairy farm.
“It was hard, but I found out that what
I did back home was very similar to what
COVER S TORY
Chobani founder and
CEO Hamdi Ulukaya.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHOBANI