Whatever Hamdi Ulukaya does with the bulk of Chobani Inc., about 10 percent of the company is now in the hands of its 2,000 or so full-time employees … some of whom may be millionaires now.
While the founder and chairman of the Greek yogurt company continues to consider how to capitalize Chobani for the future, today (April 26) he surprised employees by handing out packets awarding them stock in the company. The New York Times said he awarded stock amounting to about 10 percent of the company from his own holdings. With the company conservatively valued at $3 billion, the average employee got about $150,000 in value. Longtime employees may have gotten $1 million or more.
“I’ve built something I never thought would be such a success, but I cannot think of Chobani being built without all these people,” Ulukaya told the Times in an exclusive interview just before the announcement. “Now they’ll be working to build the company even more and building their future at the same time.”
The number of shares given to each person is based on tenure, so the longer an employee has been at the company, the bigger the stake. While the company remains privately held, the shares could be sold on private markets or employees could wait for the company to go public or be bought by another business, the Times said.
Two years ago, as the cost of Chobani's greenfield plant in Twin Falls, Idaho, soared to $500 million, Chobani needed a loan from TPG Capital, a private equity firm. TPG also got warrants to purchase 20 percent or more of Chobani’s shares.
About a year ago, stories circulated that TPG was looking to take control of the company and replace Ulukaya as CEO – which reportedly rankled the founder. Chobani hired Goldman Sachs Group as an advisor and apparently held discussions with PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and WhiteWave, but those talks went nowhere.
Chobani was Food Processing's 2012 Processor of the Year.
While technology start-ups sometimes pay employees partly in shares, such a share transfer of shares is rare in the food & beverage industry; but it has been done by Bob’s Red Mill and Litehouse Foods.