Nov. 18, 2012
, Founder of Chobani, has been named the
Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur Of The Year ® 2012 Overall Award winner
. The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award is the country's most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. The award encourages entrepreneurial activity and recognizes leaders and visionaries who demonstrate innovation, financial success and personal commitment as they create and build world-class businesses.
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Ulukaya was recognized for bringing together his passion and entrepreneurial vision to turn a start-up yogurt company into a catalyst for America's Greek yogurt boom that has since changed the way U.S. consumers think about and eat yogurt, ultimately initiating a health revolution. He was honored at the Entrepreneur Of The Year gala, the culminating event of the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum
Palm Springs, Calif.
The Forum is the nation's premier gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies. Awards were given in ten additional categories. All Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award winners were selected by an independent panel of judges from 244 regional award recipients.
"Entrepreneurs continue to be a driving force in leading the economic recovery. Their ability to see around corners and find new, better ways of doing things makes them an engine of growth," said
, Americas Director, Entrepreneur Of The Year, Ernst & Young LLP. "Ulukaya's ability to not only see an opportunity in the market, but to reinvigorate and innovate an entire product category is inspiring."
Ulukaya was recognized with the Retail and Consumer Products category award, besting other nine category winners to take home top honors. In addition to Ulukaya, the 2012 Entrepreneur Of The Year winners include:
Hamdi Ulukaya: a journey of passion and unparalleled leadership
- Media, Entertainment and Communications: Michael T. Fries, President and CEO, Liberty Global: recognized for his foresight and ability to expand into regions of the world not yet explored by other cable providers.
- Real Estate, Construction and Lodging: Gary Jabara, President and CEO, Mobilitie, LLC: recognized for his ability to employ a unique business model to build a trusted company that is now considered the premier provider of wireless coverage solutions.
- Distribution and Manufacturing: Eric Lofquist, Founder, Co-owner and President / CEO, Magnus International Group: recognized for his leadership in transforming vegetable oils and naturally derived emulsions into sustainable global products.
- Emerging: Tonya Mallory, President, CEO and Co-founder, Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc.: recognized for her commitment to improving healthcare delivery through preventative disease management services.
- Energy, Cleantech and Natural Resources: Michael G. O'Neill, Founder and CEO, Preferred Sands: recognized for his leadership and innovation in supply of sands and other materials for hydraulic fracturing.
- Financial Services: Richard McVey, CEO and Chairman of the Board, MarketAxess Holdings, Inc.: recognized for pioneering a new way of trading and transforming the way business is conducted in the fixed income market.
- Life Sciences: Joe Kiani, CEO and Chairman of the Board, Masimo Corporation: recognized for revolutionizing today's health care technologies with the invention and commercialization of non-invasive patient monitoring devices.
- Services: Brian Sharples, Co-founder and CEO, HomeAway, Inc.: recognized for combining his entrepreneurial desire and innate ability to spot business opportunities to develop the world's leading online vacation rental marketplace.
- Technology: Mike Morhaime, CEO, President and Co-founder, Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.: recognized for his commitment to a high standard of quality and propelling to the pinnacle of the gaming industry as an internationally recognized leader in interactive entertainment.
After leaving his family's dairy business in
to pursue higher education in
the United States
, Ulukaya recognized a gap in America's dairy offerings and the opportunity to tap a relatively untouched market: Greek yogurt. Instinctively following his gut, he purchased an old Kraft yogurt plant in 2005 with the goal of bringing superior products to the U.S. market. He spent his days endlessly perfecting a yogurt recipe that would eventually, in 2007, come to be known as Chobani, or "shepherd" in Turkish. Ulukaya hired four ex-Kraft employees to hand package yogurt and fill orders. Seven years later, Ulukaya still walks the floor every day to oversee operations and prides himself on finding employees who share his same passion and work ethic.
Grassroots marketing done right
In less than four years, Ulukaya has built the Chobani story beyond imagination. While other competitors focus largely on mass marketing and TV advertising, Ulukaya has kept his brand different from the rest. He has instead taken a more creative, grassroots approach, capitalizing on social media and word of mouth marketing to build a cult following around the brand. With almost 600,000 Facebook fans, Chobani prides itself on being engaged and connected with its growing community.