Hamdi Ulukaya and Chobani

Hamdi Ulukaya may not be a household name, but he is an extraordinary leader. Ulukaya is the owner and founder of Chobani, a yogurt brand that, starting in 2005, grew to $1 billion in sales in less than five years.


Ulukaya recently made headlines by announcing that he was distributing share awards to all of Chobani’s 2,000 employees. The awards, based on an employee’s position and tenure with the company, can be converted to stock or cash if the company goes public.


The New York Times speculated that the average Chobani employee’s award would be worth $150,000, and that some long-term employees awards could be valued at $1 million or more. Such awards are not unusual in the tech industry where start-ups often give ownership to employees who they cannot afford to offer competitive salaries. But in an established food company like Chobani, the move is highly unusual and extremely generous.


In his announcement to employees, Ulukaya wrote that the award is “a mutual promise to work together with shared purpose and responsibility.” He went on to say, “How we built this company matters to me, but how we grow it matters even more. I want you to be part of this growth—I want you to be the driving force of it.”


Extraordinary leaders serve people in three ways: (1) they care about them, (2) they describe a meaningful vision and pursue it with them, and (3) they define and embody highly principled values to guide them. There are three byproducts of the service of these extraordinary leaders: (1) influence, (2) meaningful results, and (3) followers who become effective leaders. The story of Hamdi Ulukaya and Chobani demonstrate what can happen when a leader is courageous enough to pursue the extraordinary instead of settling for the conventional.

Dave Alford Is passionate about developing leaders. As a pastor at Saddleback Church, he oversees the strategies for developing leaders through Saddleback’s intern program, online campus, men’s communities, women’s communities, single’s communities, and resource development for small groups. Dave also writes, coaches, and speaks about leadership. His background includes experience in business, pastoral ministry, and higher education. He has a Bachelors degree from UC Davis, an MBA from USC, and a doctorate in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University. Dave and his wife, Molly, live in Irvine with their 3 children, Jimmy, Christy, and Matthew.

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