Hamdi Ulukaya is the founder, president, and CEO of Chobani, which became a $1 billion business in just five years despite a major recession. His success earned him the moniker "the Steve Jobs of yogurt" by Forbes in 2011. Mr. Ulukaya, 40, shared his business acumen and philosophy for success during the baccalaureate commencement ceremony at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York, on Wednesday, May 22.
"As you go through your career, if you can touch just one person's life in a positive way, then you've performed a miracle," Ulukaya advises 71 recipients of bachelor's degrees in culinary arts management and baking and pastry arts management.
"It's not about the money or fame," says Ulukaya, whose family had a dairy business in his native Turkey. "It's about the joy of the journey. Trust yourself and this journey will be the most amazing one."
His journey brought him to the U.S. in 1994 to study business and learn English. He earned his MBA from the State University of New York at Albany, then created Euphrates Feta. In 2005, Ulukaya founded New York State-based Chobani, now the top-selling Greek yogurt brand in America.
To produce the authentic strained Greek yogurt, Chobani uses more than 25 million gallons of milk a week—a great economic boost to New York State's dairy farmers. Chobani's facility in Chenango County is the biggest milk processing plant east of the Mississippi.
CIA president Dr. Tim Ryan told graduates that Mr. Ulukaya's story shows the American Dream is still within reach for those with a vision and work ethic. "America is the land of opportunity, and the food world is the industry of opportunity," Ryan says.
The commencement ceremony took place on the 67th anniversary of the founding of the college. The first classes of what would become The Culinary Institute of America were held on May 22, 1946, in New Haven, Conneticut.