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Chosing Chobani
Chosing Chobani
Massimo Gramellini

Twenty years ago, Hamdi Ulukaya, a Kurdish shepherd born in Turkey, grew tired of eating nothing but yogurt, so he came down from the mountains to seek his fortune in New York. For 10 years, he lived the hard life of an immigrant, and over time, came to miss the very yogurt he had once shunned. In America, yogurt had no flavor.

A stroke of luck came in 2005, in the form of a leaflet accidentally left in Ulukaya's mailbox: It was from a real estate agency that was selling a yogurt manufacturing site. It appeared that that destiny of a creamy sort was knocking on Ulukaya's door.

He took on a loan so he could buy the factory and spent two years recreating the flavors of his childhood. In the end, Chobani yogurt was born, its name a tribute to the Turkish word for "shepherd." Soon, Chobani strained yogurt became a fixture in refrigerators up and down the East Coast, making Ulukaya a billionaire and allowing him to hire some 2,000 employees, most of them chosen from a pool of immigrants without jobs, people with a background similar to his own.

The shepherd recently shared two pieces of news with his flock: First, that Chobani was about to be listed on the stock exchange; and second, that Ulukaya intended to give his employees 10% of the total shares.

Upon hearing this, some staffers wobbled on their feet, others fainted — but all of them suddenly found $200,000 in their pockets. Those who tried to thank Ulukaya for this unexpected gift were told that it wasn't a gift, but a mutual promise: From now on, they would work with a shared goal and sense of responsibility.

It took a Kurdish shepherd to give new purpose to capitalism. And it took New York to give new purpose to a Kurdish shepherd.

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