The Chobani billionaire who turned a $3,000 loan into a yogurt empire says CEOs don't actually report to the board - they report to the consumer

Hamdi Ulukaya chobani

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Save The Children

Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya founded the yogurt maker with a $3,000 loan.

If you picked up a container of Chobani in 2007, there was a phone number on the back that you could call if you had a problem with the now best-selling Greek yogurt.

That number was CEO Hamdi Ulukaya's direct line, Ulukaya said in a TED talk filmed in April and published on YouTube June 20. Ulukaya said he believes that businesses exist to serve customers.

"Today's playbook says the CEO reports to the board," Ulukaya said. "In my opinion, the CEO reports to the consumer."

Ulukaya refers to himself as an "anti-CEO" because he rejects traditional business practices like aiming to maximize value for shareholders, he said in the TED talk. According to Ulukaya, business leaders should also ask how they can help struggling communities instead of trying to get perks for their companies.

Ulukaya is not the only CEO who credits their success to a focus on customers. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in June 2019 that prioritizing customers' desires also helps businesses craft a stable corporate strategy, Business Insider's Julie Bort reported.

"You can work on those things with the confidence to know that all the energy you put into them today is still going to be paying you dividends 10 years from now," Bezos said.

Read more: A legendary venture capitalist who made early investments in Twitter and Skype explains why he turned down Netflix - and what he learned from it

Ulukaya, 46, founded Chobani after immigrating to New York from Turkey to study English in 1994, according to Forbes. Ulukaya received a $3,000 loan from the Small Business Administration in 2007 and used it to buy an old yogurt plant in Norwich, New York. Chobani now sells over $1 billion of yogurt annually and is America's most popular brand of Greek yogurt, Forbes reports.

"If you're right with your people, if you're right with your community, if you're right with your product, you'll be more profitable, more innovative, and you will have more passionate people working for you and a community that supports you," Ulukaya said.

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