On Monday, Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya offered an exceptional argument in the opening talk for the first night of TED 2019, this year's TED talk conference in Vancouver. In short, most CEOs are leading their companies wrong.

Here are four secrets to how the Turkish immigrant turned Chobani into the most successful yogurt brand in recent memory.

1. Be grateful to your employees.

"Don't worry about your shareholders, but your employees."

His take is like Richard Branson's: "Take care of your employees and your employees will want to take care of your customers." For Ulukaya, he gave a share of the company to his 2,000 employees.

According to him, people thought he was insane. But Ulukaya knew that the investment in his company would give a serious return--and an intense loyalty.

2. Respect the community.

"The biggest businesses today ask, 'What kind of tax breaks can you give to us?" when, in reality, we should go to the community and ask, 'What we can do for them?'"

For the second major Chobani factory, Ulukaya asked the local community what support they needed. In his words, Chobani asked for permission. The company then trained locals to create yogurt and strategically helped build up the economy in a way that empowered locals.

3. Take responsibility.

"Don't stay out of politics, but you must pick a side."

Ulukaya is a well-known advocate of immigrant support--30 percent of Chobani's employees are immigrants. He considers this decision not only personal, since he is from Turkey, but also political, as he believes in supporting new Americans.

Despite his previous arguments, at TED he shared, "Business, not government, will be the main social change agent in the world."

4. Be accountable.

"Today, the CEO reports to the board, but in my opinion, the CEO reports to the consumer."

For years, Ulukaya put his personal number on each Chobani container. It allowed him to get feedback from those he served. It directly influenced his business decisions, he says, and helped change the direction of the company.

At TED, he said failure to follow these four tenants blocks companies from having sustainable, healthy success. "This is the difference between profit and true value," he said.

Published on: Apr 16, 2019
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