Chobani is a business game changer. They have become the most popular yogurt brand in the country, upending the security big companies felt to keep doing everything the same way, and most of that accomplishment comes from the CEO’s unique investment in employees. They have also been awarded Great Place To Work® twice. When you need help with your recruiting and hiring, use Recruiteze! Recruiteze is the top free online recruiting software on the market. Start your free trial here.
5 Hiring Lessons We Can Learn From Chobani
#1. It Starts Strategic Hiring Choices
Chobani’s CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya, was an immigrant taking a wild chance at a forsaken yogurt plant in New York. Kraft was selling the plant, and there were 55 people left to close down the plant.
Ulukaya had different plans, rebuilding instead of closing, and he decided to start with a paint job. For that he’d need only 5 of those people.
Inc.com quoted him as saying, “I hired five people from the 55, and those five are still with me. Those five people just rocked. And when the time came and we needed to bring more people in, those five people knew who to call.”
They also quoted Craig Gomez, the company’s head of global human resources, “After you work here for a period of time, it positions you, in essence, to be a scout for talent. We have a lot of employees who refer friends, family members, and colleagues. We think that sort of thing is good for connectivity and for our culture.”
Chobani carefully selected the best of the best from their team, nurtured them, got them invested in the company, and then used them as building blocks for a solid company culture.
#2. Investment in Employees
No employee can be their best without an engaging and productive environment to thrive in. Today’s wisdoms see that environment as one where an employer invests in their employees’ mental and physical wellness, and Chobani has taken a unique and passionate view on the concept.
It starts in the hiring phase. Chobani recognizes that many people who apply for their jobs are already passionate about their yogurt or the job, or both. They don’t want to discourage this enthusiasm with a slow or inconsiderate hiring process, so Gomez told Inc, “We want to bring the same level of sensitivity to job applicants as we do to consumers.”
And Chobani’s benefits are impressively thorough, covering financial, health, and overall wellness in sincere and well-rounded detail.
The top of their careers page features this quote:
“Come as you are, and become the best you”
“Our energetic work environment is a culmination of diverse backgrounds and cultures. Since the beginning, we’ve focused on fostering tight-knit teams that feed off innovation and creativity. We believe that when you’re comfortable being yourself and truly love what you do, amazing things can happen.”
They back that statement up with:
- Six weeks 100% paid parental leave to encourage bonding “with a new child following a birth, adoption, or foster care placement,” so employees can “return to their jobs feeling confident and ready.”
- “A comprehensive benefits package including medical, dental, and vision coverage, 401k, life insurance, long-term and short-term disability coverage, and flexible spending accounts.”
- A wellness plan including, “a gym membership reimbursement, an employee assistance program, a health advocate program, and Chobani yogurt.”
It doesn’t take long to read Chobani’s benefits list, but it packs a powerful punch. With these benefits, you’ll have a healthy family, a healthy you, a healthy present, and a healthy future. Like they said, wellness benefits make employees feel “confident and ready;” happier, healthier, less stressed employees work their best.
#3. Shares in the Company
Chobani also cuts employees in on the profits. BBC News reported in 2016 that Chobani was offering a 10% share in the company to its employees, with the reward amount being based on the length of time the employee had been working there. That means some employees may end up with “millions of dollars.”
They quoted what Ulukaya told his staff, “This isn’t a gift. It’s a mutual promise to work together with a shared purpose and responsibility. To continue to create something special and of lasting value.”
Ulukaya has since written, “I had 2,000 employees in 2016 when I announced that we were going to give them shares in the company. It was a beautiful day. And the company is different because of it. The staff was always proud, but this ownership piece was missing. This is probably one of the smartest, most tactical things you can do for a company. You’re faster, you’re more passionate. Your people are happier.”
#4. Immigrants and Refugees
Chobani is one the most notable companies hiring refugees because their staff is made up of 30% immigrants and refugees. In an Inc.com article on their refugee policies, they reported 20 languages being spoken in their plants.
Hiring refugees wasn’t a cute political move or a lucky whim, Ulukaya was passionate about hiring immigrants and refugees for two reasons. #1, he was an immigrant himself, from Turkey. #2, he wanted to connect the business with the community it was in and the community was made up of many refugees from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.
In the Inc.com article, Ulukaya shared several key sentiments with us:
“They want to work, and they have the right to work. There are obstacles: language, training, and transportation. We figured it out.”
“This was not about politics; this wasn’t my refugee work. This was about hiring from our community. Refugees are dying to provide for their community. I always said that the minute they got the job, that’s the minute they stopped being refugees. It’s been proved to me that this was a plus to the culture.”
“If you want to build a company that truly welcomes people–including refugees–one thing you have to do is throw out this notion of ‘cheap labor.’ That’s really awful. They’re not a different group of people, they’re not Africans or Asians or Nepalis. They’re each just another team member. Let people be themselves, and if you have a cultural environment that welcomes everyone for who they are, it just works.”
Hiring refugees didn’t come without a fight for Chobani. With the political tensions from the last election, Ulukaya’s immigrant and refugee policies came under fire. TheHill reported that both Ulukaya and the mayor of Twin Falls, Idaho received death threats because the far-right crowd in Twin Falls took exception to what they saw as an influx of refugees in area because of the company’s local plant
Ulukaya was undaunted by the threats, saying, “It was an emotional time. People … hate you for doing something right. There’s not much you can do,” and “They are the most loyal, hard-working people right now in our plant here [in New York].”
The tensions didn’t last long, and Ulukaya has the support of Idaho’s Republican governor who said, “I think his care about his employees, whether they be refugees or they be folks that were born 10 miles from where they’re working — I believe his advocacy for that person is no different. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
#5: It Takes Mistakes To Define You
Business is about taking risks, and probably no one knows it better than Ulukaya. Chobani began with a SBA-loan and the purchase of a Kraft cast-off plant that was in the process of closing.
In that Inc.com article about hiring refugees, a former employee was quoted as saying, “These large companies gave up on us.”
Ulukaya recounted, “Here I show up with a little knowledge, and an accent that was a lot worse than what it is now. I try to tell the former employees: We can start something! I couldn’t promise security, or that the factory would really come back. It was me and five factory workers, and the odds were highly against us.”
That risk of making mistakes just fueled the desire to succeed and confidence in the dream.
Three years in, Ulukaya thought he needed another CEO. He said, “I wasn’t as confident as I am now, and I would get shaken up talking to 40 employees. I decided to hire another CEO, because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do this.”
He was mistaken.
“One executive had run some big companies and had a nice suit and a spiffy ride, and he really wanted the job. We met in a diner, and the way he interacted with the waitress was so rude. This is what I grew up hating: people who think they’re better than everybody else. In that moment, I knew I wasn’t looking for a CEO.”
Working through the risks, he had whittled down what he wanted and what the company needed.
Chobani also embraces mistakes in their marketing campaigns.
The most notable mistake Chobani made was their #howmatters campaign. They put a few phrases on the inside of their Simply 100 yogurt lids describing the quality of their ingredients with the hashtag #howmatters, one of which being the notorious message, “Nature got us to 100 calories, not scientists.” This angered many scientists who argued that nature and science are not at odds with one another and described how science had in fact contributed to the creation of Chobani’s yogurt. Some of them threatened to boycott Chobani.
The company appeased many of those it had angered with a “human” apology on Twitter:
“We were too clever for our own good – didn’t intend to put down science or scientists with our recent lid. We discontinued it. #WordsMatter”
Chobani’s chief marketing officer, Peter McGuinness, was quoted by the American Marketing Association, “The more you communicate openly, the more you can open yourself up for attack. I don’t want to be this ultra-careful company that runs everything by teams of lawyers. We could have chosen our words more carefully and we probably could’ve brainstormed more about possible repercussions or done more word-gaming, but the culture of this company is to openly and humanly communicate, and have a bit of fun. This particular one didn’t go the way we wanted it to, and we read and reacted and responded, and we did it in an open and transparent way.”
When asked about social media by Inc.com, Ulukaya sounded very similar to McGuinness, “Be yourself, be real. Every once in a while you might make a mistake, but people will forgive you. I just let people be themselves. If they make a mistake, that’s just human.”
Chobani is a very unique and very successful company powered by a passionate dream to empower the human individual. Any business would benefit by learning from Chobani’s investment in its employees, diversity, and willingness to be real even though that includes mistakes.
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