October 26, 1972 |
Ä°liÃ§, Erzincan, Turkey
|Alma mater||University of Albany
|Known for||Chobani, Founder & CEO|
|Net worth||US$2 billion (March 2016) |
Just about anyone can make a good product, but it's the people that count. In the end, it's the employees who will take it from a kitchen-table idea to the next level. There are a lot of important things in business, but the people portion comes first.
I didn't have a business degree. I didn't have experience to work in somebody else's office. I never built or ran a department. So I was on this journey, and when the time came to make a decision, I was just going with my gut.
Unlike the objective of far too many companies, manufacturing is not about a quick 'exit.' It is centered on long-term value creation.
On the tech side, little start-ups can do something magnificent. They don't need too much in terms of plants and infrastructure.
I came to the U.S. in 1994 to learn English and go to business school, but I took only a few business courses at the State University of New York at Albany and didn't finish.
Entrepreneurship is seen as if you're in Silicon Valley or New York City and starting an app business or a social-media business, which is cool. But what we really have to focus on is people who make things, and how can we fund them, and how can we encourage people to stay in their community and make a difference in their community.
For a startup, you need to stay small so the others don't attack, or you aim to be one of the big guys. If you don't do it right, you might lose everything.
Most Americans descend from the very people who built this country with their bare hands.
A closed plant is like a cemetery; it really is. The walls will talk to you; the machines will talk to you if you really talk to them.
I was always told yogurt had to be sweet to appeal to Americans. But when people go to Turkey or Greece, within 15 minutes of their return, they start talking about how much they enjoyed the yogurt there.
We took a plant that was being closed by a big company thinking there was no good use for it, and we came in with a different perspective. We bought some used equipment, as simple as we could.
There are a lot of studies about small businesses and how they make a difference in their community and create a lot of jobs and values. So we need to focus on small businesses or entrepreneurs who want to start manufacturing or making things.
What happened was I saw this ad for a yogurt plant for sale. It was in my junk mail pile, and I threw it into the garbage can. And then about half an hour later, with the dirt on it, I picked it up from the garbage can, and I called out of curiosity.
I'm not somebody who is going to build something for a few years, sell it, and then go off and just have fun.
I brought in a yogurt master from Turkey. I went to Greece. I was always going back and forth, from New York to Turkey and Greece. The recipe we use has been around hundreds and hundreds of years. Growing up in Turkey, not a day would go by that we wouldn't eat yogurt like this.
Growing up in eastern Turkey, I was not really involved with the family business – sheep and cow farming, yogurt and cheese making. But I think I learned from my father the unspoken business language or instincts that go back thousands of years.
A manufacturing resurgence is what will give local communities and small towns across America a fighting chance for survival. Many of today's American entrepreneurs come from those very places but make their wealth elsewhere. We need to change that.
Everyone asks me why someone Turkish is making Greek yogurt. In Greece, it is not called 'Greek yogurt.' Everywhere in the world it is called 'strained yogurt.' But because it was introduced in this country by a Greek company, they called it 'Greek yogurt.'
Every small business will give you an entrepreneurial way of looking at things. I guarantee you that for every plant that closes, if you gave it to one small-business person in that community, he or she would find a way to make it work. The small-business attitude is you always find a way to make it work.
You can find Chobani in every major supermarket, in club stores, convenience stores and airports. But we're not everywhere yet. We have been struggling with keeping up with demand.