Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of Chobani, has been named the Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Retail and Consumer Products Award winner. Ulukaya was also awarded the Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Overall Award, chosen from a group of 10 separate category finalists. The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award is the country's most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. The award encourages entrepreneurial activity and recognizes leaders and visionaries who demonstrate innovation, financial success and personal commitment as they create and build world-class businesses.
Ulukaya was recognized for bringing together his passion and entrepreneurial vision to turn a start-up yogurt company into a catalyst for America's Greek yogurt boom that has since changed the way U.S. consumers think about and eat yogurt, ultimately initiating a health revolution. He was honored at the Entrepreneur Of The Year gala, the culminating event of the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Springs, Calif. The Forum is the nation's premier gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies. Awards were given in nine additional categories. All Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award winners were selected by an independent panel of judges from 244 regional award recipients.
"Entrepreneurs continue to be a driving force in leading the economic recovery. Their ability to see around corners and find new, better ways of doing things makes them an engine of growth," said Bryan Pearce, Americas director, Entrepreneur Of The Year, Ernst & Young LLP." Ulukaya's ability to not only see an opportunity in the market, but to turn that opportunity into a nutritional phenomenon is inspiring at a time when the news is frequently doom and gloom on market growth."
Hamdi Ulukaya: a journey of passion and unparalleled leadership
After leaving his family's dairy business in Turkey to pursue higher education in the United States, Ulukaya recognized a gap in America's dairy offerings and the opportunity to tap a relatively untouched market: Greek yogurt. Instinctively following his gut, he purchased an old Kraft yogurt plant in 2005 with the goal of bringing superior products to the U.S. market. He spent his days endlessly perfecting a yogurt recipe that would eventually, in 2007, come to be known as Chobani, or "shepherd" in Turkish. Ulukaya worked with his four ex-Kraft employees to hand package yogurt and fill orders. Seven years later, Ulukaya still walks the floor every day to oversee operations and prides himself on finding employees who share his same passion and work ethic.
Grassroots marketing done right
In less than four years, Ulukaya took Chobani's sales from $50 million to almost $700 million per year. While other competitors focus largely on mass marketing and TV advertising, Ulukaya has kept his brand different from the rest. He has instead taken a more creative, grassroots approach, capitalizing on social media and word of mouth marketing to build a cult following around the brand. With almost 600,000 Facebook fans, Chobani prides itself on being engaged and connected with its growing community.
Nothing But Good: a champion for positive change
Despite rapid expansion of the Chobani brand, Ulukaya sticks by his company's philosophy: "Nothing But Good." His philanthropic initiatives have supported more than 50 groups globally. In 2010, Ulukaya created the Shepherd's Gift Foundation, an independent 501c(3) in honor of his mother. The foundation contributes 10 percent of all Chobani post-tax profits to those working for positive, long-lasting change.
Ulukaya's also using his vision to expand into new product lines and grow Chobani's domestic and global footprints. He recently launched Chobani Champions, the first Greek yogurt for kids. Ulukaya is also undertaking a major expansion of the current New York plant and is constructing a new plant in Idaho that, when finished, will be the largest yogurt plant in the country. On a global scale, Ulukaya acquired Bead Foods in Australia in 2011 and is planning to move into Canada as well.
Ulukaya's hard work, creativity, passion and leadership have enabled him to be an inspiring global leader. Despite his success, he will always stay true to his promise to make high quality, fairly priced products so that everyone can have access to the best tasting yogurt.