2 Ways Chobani Just Changed the Employee Relations Game

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Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya set a new standard for employee relations on April 26 when he gave the company’s more than 2,000 full-time employees an ownership stake in the massively popular yogurt brand, according to the New York Times.

Ulukaya met with workers at the company’s plant and world headquarters in New Berlin, N.Y., on Tuesday to make the surprise announcement that his employees will now hold shares worth up to 10% of the company when it’s sold or goes public.

The amount of shares each employee received was based on tenure and the person’s role within the organization. The Times reported that at Chobani’s two-year-old valuation of between $3 billion and $5 billion, the average employee’s stocks could be worth as much as $150,000, with more tenured employees valued at more than $1 million.

After founding the company in 2005, Ulukaya helmed the massive growth of the company into one of the best-selling Greek yogurt brands in America. Having encouraged his employees to save for retirement and make smart financial decisions from the beginning, he’s now given them a personal stake in their work.

“I’ve built something I never thought would be such a success, but I cannot think of Chobani being built without all these people,” Ulukaya told the Times. “Now they’ll be working to build the company even more and building their future at the same time.”

The move is almost unprecedented in the food industry, according to the Times, and in an era where income inequality is a major talking point in the upcoming election, strikes the right chord at the right time. Here are the two ways Chobani has changed the employee relations game by allocating stock to its employees.

Addressing the income gap

Many people have paid lip service to the widening separation between America's rich and poor. What’s becoming a vast chasm between the owners and workers is most apparent at some of the country’s largest organizations, where corporate executives make far greater salaries than lower-level employees. But Ulukaya’s giving of his own stock to the employees that helped get Chobani where it is goes far beyond the talk of politicians and economists. His efforts show a literal investment in the company’s employees that gives them real, tangible rewards for contributing to Chobani’s success.

Raising the stakes

Employees of Chobani aren’t just working for paychecks anymore. They literally have a stake in whether or not the business succeeds. The value of this kind of personal investment in an organization cannot be overstated. A paradigm where employees not only feel valued, but are actually part owners of the brand, creates the kind of workplace that promises to retain top talent and see unprecedented levels of employee engagement.

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