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HIRE POWER 2012

6 Hiring Secrets From Chobani HR

As Chobani, the Greek-yogurt maker, grows astronomically, so does its workforce. Today, the company has 1,630 employees; in 2008, it had just 50. Here's how.
Christian Murray loads Chobani yogurt containers into a sleeving machine to be shrink wrapped at a Chobani manufacturing facility in New York.
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Have hiring problems? Who doesn't?

Take a cue from those who have done it--a lot: Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya and his head of HR, Craig Gomez, who together have led Chobani to No. 7 on the inaugural Hire Power list of America's biggest job creators. 

Here's what they've learned along the way.

Identify who you really need.

In 2005, with help from an SBA-backed loan, Ulukaya bought an old yogurt plant in New Berlin, New York. There were 55 people working there, preparing the plant to shut down. Ulukaya didn't want to close the plant, but he didn't have a business yet, either. He thought he'd start by repainting the outside of the factory, and for that, he needed just a handful of people.

"I hired five people from the 55, and those five are still with me," he says. As the company grew, "those five people just rocked," he says. "And when the time came and we needed to bring more people in, those five people knew who to call."

Source new hires from your existing pool.

Seven years later, Chobani employs about 1,600 workers. But Chobani's head of global human resources, Craig Gomez, says the company's approach to hiring really hasn't changed that much. "After you work here for a period of time, it positions you, in essence, to be a scout for talent," says Gomez. "We have a lot of employees who refer friends, family members, and colleagues." Gomez has no problem with multiple family members working for the same company: "We think that sort of thing is good for connectivity and for our culture," he says.

Take advantage of local talent feeders.

Of course, Chobani can't rely solely on referrals. The company has what Gomez refers to as a "very active partnership" with the Department of Labor in Twin Falls, New York. The Department of Labor staff networks on behalf of the company, publicizes openings, and seeks out candidates.

Blend in with the community.

The company has been a boon for the local farmers and community in upstate New York where Chobani is based. Ulukaya said, "I don't believe that any business has the opportunity to go forward without paying attention to its surroundings. From the beginning we tried to be a part of the community rather than take it over."
Use new technology.

Given the sheer volume of new hires, Chobani is also looking to bring more technology to bear on the process. The formal onboarding for new employees has traditionally been done in in-person meetings; now Gomez wants to be able to deliver it on a laptop.

Thoughtfully consider applicants--they may be your biggest fans.

Gomez is acutely aware of the fact that many applicants come to Chobani partly because they already like the company: They either know someone who works there or they're fans of the yogurt. And often, there's nothing quite like applying for a job to squelch that enthusiasm.

"We want to bring the same level of sensitivity to job applicants as we do to consumers," he says.

He won't give specifics, but when asked if a resume submitted to Chobani online could get caught in a black hole, he says, "We have some ideas about that. We are absolutely working on that."

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Dec 4, 2012

KIMBERLY WEISUL | Staff Writer | Inc.com Editor-at-Large

Kimberly Weisul is editor-at-large at Inc. and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media startup that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek.




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