November 17, 2017
Earlier this week I had the chance to go to Twin Falls, Idaho and work with the Chobani leadership team. Our visit to the largest yogurt factory in the world started with a tour; we put on special scrubs, shoe covers, and hair nets to maintain food safety, and our tour guide took us through an incredibly elaborate process: centrifuges that separate milk from cream, machines that pasteurize the milk, huge pipes that mix in the fruit, computers that test the amount of cultures and others that test the chemical signatures of the fruits to keep things consistent, spider arms that rapidly move the product into crates, etc. I was blown away by the feats of engineering involved in taking these simple natural ingredients from their source, through a multistep process, and all the way to my mouth. Oh! And no tour would be complete without the opportunity to eat copious amounts of Greek yogurt right off the production line.
With my teammate, Connor, in Chobani heaven
Chobani embodies a No Barriers culture. The company was founded by Hamdi Ulukaya, a Kurdish-Turkish immigrant who arrived in the U.S. as a student with almost no money. He purchased a defunct yogurt factory in upstate New York and, despite having no experience, pursued his dream of creating a high quality Greek style yogurt that was also affordable. Now, he is the CEO and founder of one of the most successful companies in the U.S. Ulukaya’s connections to his roots are important to him. The name Chobani was chosen because it stems from the Turkish word coban, meaning shepherd and Ulukaya views the word and its connotations as “pure,” much like his yogurt. Besides being affordable, Chobani’s yogurt is made of simple ingredients with no gelatin or growth hormones in their dairy.
I feel connected to Ulukaya’s roots. A few years ago I went to Eastern Turkey and climbed Mt. Ararat near Dogubeyazit. This is the mountain fabled to be the resting place of Noah’s Ark. I even got to swim in a giant alkaline lake, Lake Van, thought to have healing powers. I had the privilege of drinking tea in the cultural center of the Kurds, an amazingly strong and distinct culture and people.
Ulukaya believes in giving back. He Elevates the world around him with his many philanthropic contributions. He joined The Giving Pledge; an idea started by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates that encourages billionaires to donate at least half of their wealth, and has given at least 700 million dollars to help refugees around the world.
Chobani’s rope team powerfully reflects Ulukaya’s tenacity, hard work, and spirit of entrepreneurialism. They are Pioneers who are working together to create a company and product that make the world a better place. Thanks Chobani for all you do. Keep climbing!