Here's a recipe for success, courtesy of Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani Yogurt and one of the world's newest billionaires (according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index):
Combine 1 part "dairy boy" upbringing in foreign country, 1 part Small Business Administration loan, and 1 part shuttered factory. Mix ingredients thoroughly, work hard, and voila! Instant billionaire.*
*Just add yogurt.
That's the condensed version of Hamdi Ulukaya's life story, a 40-year-old Turkish immigrant who grew up surrounded by his family business of sheep and cow farming, and making yogurt and cheese. When he left his native country for the U.S. in 1994, writes Forbes magazine, he intended to learn English and attend business school.
But he soon dropped out of school, and - on the advice of his father - started a small cheese manufacturing facility. "They don't have very good cheese here," he remembers his father telling him. "You should make cheese." I said, "What? I didn't come all the way here to make cheese!"
He ended up taking his father's advice.
Ulukaya found moderate success making feta cheese, when in 2005 he stumbled across an advertisement for a yogurt manufacturing plant, formerly owned by food giant Kraft, near Utica, N.Y. Against the advice of his friends, he decided to buy it.
"Everybody around me thought I was nuts," he explained to the Wall Street Journal. "Here was this huge company, Kraft, getting out of this plant. If there was value in it, why would they close it? But you just have a gut feeling you can do something."
He bought the 80,000 square foot factory, partially funded by a loan from the Small Business Administration, the day after he toured it, and hired 5 workers Kraft had just laid off.
Ulukaya then hired a master yogurt maker (conveniently a family friend from Turkey), and they spent the next 18 months nailing down the perfect yogurt recipe. He says they took their time with the recipe because he knew they "only had one shot and it had to work."
Chobani launched their "Greek Yogurt" in 2007, selling mostly to smaller stores around New York. Then, in 2009, BJ's and Costco signed on to carry the product. The upstart yogurt company has doubled its sales every year after that, boosting Ulukaya's current net worth to $1.1 billion, reports Bloomberg.
Speaking of his success, Ulukaya said in statement to Bloomberg, “The real story here is the collective success of Chobani and how we as a company, through our fans and community, have left an indelible mark on the yogurt industry."
All that wealth may be short-lived however, if Ulukaya's ex-wife, Ayse Giray, has her say. Businessweek reports Giray filed suit last month seeking a 53 percent stake in the company. Her claim rests on $500,000 she supposedly invested in Ulukaya's cheese operation, a portion of which, she says, was used to start the yogurt company instead.
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