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CHOBANI – An Immigrant’s Tale

By Shlomo Maital

     Hamdi Ulukaya was born on October 26, 1972. He was originally Kurdish, from a dairy-farming and shepherd family in a small village in the Kurdish part of Turkey.   In Turkey Kurds are persecuted, in part because Turkey fears the long-standing Kurdish dream of an independent country, Kurdistan.  (Kurds have already carved themselves an autonomous region in northern Syria).   Hamdi was active in promoting Kurdish rights and had to leave Turkey as a result. He came to the U.S. as a legal immigrant, ironically a political refugee and hence eligible for entry.   Today? I doubt he would have been granted entry.

   Ulukaya is the owner, founder, Chairman, and CEO of Chobani, the #1-selling strained yogurt (Greek-style) brand in the United States.   Here is how he did it. It truly does depict the classic American/immigrant dream.

     In the U.S. Hamdi took some English courses and business courses. At his father’s suggestion he started a small feta cheese factory.    

   Hamdi Ulukaya heard of a plant in the town of New Berlin, New York, that was being closed by Kraft Foods, in 2006. It was for sale. Kraft had decided to get out of the unprofitable yogurt business. The plant was priced at $700,000.   Ulukaya called to verify the bargain-basement price. “One fermentation tank costs that!” he thought.   He got a $1 million loan from the Small Business Administration and from a local bank, hired several of the former Kraft employees as well as a “yogurt master” and launched his brand in 2007. It took him a year to perfect the smooth Greek-style yogurt.  He made a point of hiring mainly local people. 

   Ulukaya chose the name Chobani as a variation of the Turkish word çoban, itself derived from Persian čupân  meaning “shepherd”.

     Chobani yogurt really is the best. If you haven’t tried it… do so.

     Chobani has approximately 2,000 employees and is the top-selling brand of Greek yogurt in the United States. The company is worth billions.    

     On December 17, 2012 Chobani opened the world’s largest yogurt-processing plants in Twin Falls, Idaho. The one million square-foot facility cost $450 million and employs 300 people.  Hamdi said, “The state expects the total economic impact of our business there to be $1.3 billion.”   This was very unusual – Idaho is a highly conservative state, with a extreme right wing Governor. But he loves former immigrant Hamdi, who has brought jobs and prosperity to Idaho.   Despite this, some of the locals have made racist remarks.

     In April, 2016, Chobani announced it was giving 10 percent of its $ 3 billion ownership stake to its employees. Considering there are 2000 employees, this would be on average $150,000 per employee, or $300 million!     Some employees became instant millionaires as a result of this action, because share awards were based on tenure at the company. Hamdi does not believe this is philanthropy. It is good business – creating motivated loyal and creative employees.

     Hamdi has been active in Europe, helping refugees with money and moral support.

     My question is: Does President Donald J. Trump eat yogurt? Does he eat Greek yogurt? Does he favor CHOBANI Greek yogurt? And when he does eat it, does he think of the Kurdish immigrant who brought jobs, wealth and good yogurt to America? And..can he spell Chobani? C-H-O-B-A-N-I .  Long live Kurdistan.

      

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Cultivate More Stress! Really!

By Shlomo Maital

Tiger Woods is one of the world’s greatest golfers ever, in a league with Palmer, Niklaus, Snead, and Bobby Jones.  He has had personal problems, a messy divorce, back injuries, surgery, and lately hasn’t made the first cut in tournaments.

     Woods was stopped by police, in his car, near his home in Florida, and failed a breathalyzer test. But he had no alcohol in his blood. He had simply taken tranquilizers and fallen asleep; he took enough of them, so that he could not walk a straight line.

     Let’s get this straight. No game has more stress than golf. That final putt? Make it and you win a major. Miss it and you finish second or third – not good. Stress? You bet. Yet doctors have doped up Tiger with Xanax (a blockbuster tranquilizer, making billions for Pfizer), Vicoden, Vioxx and who knows what else. Was he taking Xanax while playing? If so – no wonder he missed the cut.

       Be clear – Xanax is a wonder drug for those who suffer extreme anxiety attacks. Yet it is according to US Food and Drug the most abused tranquilizer, prescribed for millions who do not need it. Why? Because we’ve been taught by Big Pharma and others, that stress is harmful, terrible, to be avoided at all costs, by popping a pill. So pop away…. and help that bottom line of Pfizer.

         I argue here that we need more stress, not less. What is stress? Stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”   Simply put — We have an unsolved problem, and it bothers us.   Let’s redefine stress.   “…a challenge, that when we solve it (not if), boosts our self-esteem, self-efficacy and our sense of wellbeing”.   Need a pill for that? No. You need to take on the challenge and crack it. Creativity is widening the range of choices. To meet unsolved problems, we can come up a large range of possible solutions. Zoom in, pick one – and go for it. Sometimes you will fail.   That’s part of life. Sometimes you’ll succeed. But if you Xanax the stress, you’ll never get even the chance to succeed.   When you tackle a stressful state, you change your mental outlook from anxiety to action….it’s that simple.

         And – keep in practice. Purposely seek out hard things to do every day, and do them, and feel good about it.   This is super-important for us seniors. It is so easy to pamper yourself, when you’re over 65, just because you have grey hair. Why? Take on challenges. Your body may not be as strong, but your mind sure is.

         Do not be manipulated by Big Pharma.   Welcome stress. Cultivate it. Tackle those big challenges – and crack them.   You can do it.  Popping a Xanax smothers the stress, temporarily, but doesn’t deal with it. It’s not a solution.  

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
June 2017
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