The founder of Chobani yogurt, Hamdi Ulukaya, just gave his employees a 10 percent ownership stake in his fast growing private company. In a surprise announcement, over 2,000 full-time employees received a packet with their stock shares, based on tenure. For some long-time employees, the stake is estimated to be over $1 million with the average of $150,000.
At a time of growing income and wealth inequality, Ulukaya’s decision bucks the trend on a number of fronts.
While some technology companies have given employees a stake in start-ups, Ulukaya is giving his employees a valuable ownership stake in a privately held company that is valued between $3 to $5 billion. If the company goes public or is sold, employees will be free to sell their shares.
More important, Ulukaya rejects the “great man theory of wealth creation” when he acknowledges that his employees helped build the company’s wealth and should share in its growth. “I’ve built something I never thought would be such a success,” said Mr. Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant who founded the company in 2005, told The New York Times. “But I cannot think of Chobani being built without all these people.”
At the meeting at the Berlin, NY plant where he announced his decision, Ulukaya declared to his employees, "We used to work together. Now we are partners."
“His choice of language is instructive,” said Chris Mackin of Ownership Associates, a long-time advisor to worker owned enterprises. “The workers and managers whose efforts make a business work at Chobani or at any business are not just rented humans. They are the natural community of partners, the legitimate owners of any business enterprise. For helping teach us all that essential lesson of corporate governance, we should all buy Chobani yogurt.”
“It’s better than a bonus or a raise,” said employee Rich Lake. “It’s the best thing because you’re getting a piece of this thing you helped build.”
What if more major companies shared the wealth with the employees who helped build them? If more enterprises valued their employees, not just with living wages but also with ownership stakes, we’d have considerably less inequality.
Greek yogurt –not just good for your health - but also good for the body politic.
Chuck Collins is an author and senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, where he directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good. Heir to the Oscar Mayer fortune, he donated most of his inheritance at a young age. Collins is an expert on U.S. economic inequality and has pioneered efforts to bring together investors and business leaders to speak out publicly against corporate practices and economic policies that increase economic inequality. He is co-author, with Bill Gates Sr., of Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes. Chuck is the co-founder of Wealth for Common Good.