2,000 Chobani employees just got a huge economic windfall

Last Updated Apr 26, 2016 3:13 PM EDT

Handi Ulukaya, the Turkish immigrant who built Chobani yogurt into a multi-billion dollar brand, has decided to share his good fortune with his 2,000 employees by offering them ownership stakes in the company, which will make some millionaires.

The move to give workers shares worth up to 10 percent of the company was something that Ulukaya had wanted to do for a while, according to Michael Gonda, a spokesman for Chobani, confirming details in a New York Times story, which broke the news.

Under the program called "Chobani Shares," every full-time employee will be awarded "units" that will become valuable in the event of a future public event such as an IPO. Unlike in most Employee Stock Ownership Plans, employees aren't being asked to pay for the units. It wasn't immediately clear how the tax burden would be paid.

"This isn't a gift," Ulukaya wrote in a letter to employees. "It's a mutual promise to work together with a shared purpose and responsibility. To continue to create something special and of lasting value."

gettyimages-459230958.jpg

Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani, in November 2014.

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

Ulukaya founded Chobani in 2005 after acquiring a defunct Kraft yogurt plant in upstate New York with an $800,00 loan from the Small Business Administration. He later helped popularized Greek-style yogurt, which is thicker than the varieties that U.S. consumers have eaten for decades.

TPG Capital, which gave Chobani a $750 million bailout, will have to wait to buy shares in the company as the result of Ulukaya's decision, according to the Times, which noted that the magnitude of his generosity was unusual. Tech start-ups for years have rewarded their employees with equity and, as a result, some early employees of Facebook (FB), Alphabet's Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) became very wealthy.

  • Jonathan Berr On Twitter»

    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.