13 September 2015

If You Can Stand the Heat, Stay in the Kitchen

Several months ago we published our blog about Hamdi Ulukaya being pushed out of the CEO role of Chobani. Apparently we were a bit premature.  Hamdi is still in charge and now his private equity investor TPG is happy with his current performance. But is there a problem still lurking?

Hamdi was recently quoted by Business Week when asked about the prior press relating to his imminent departure: "Nobody could think of Chobani without me and me with Chobani."  Uh oh! This convergence of the person with company he founded may ultimately be the downfall of both.

As we have pointed out many times, founders and the companies they found often approach a singularity of identity. Certainly for a charismatic founder like Ulukaya, this is a natural result of his outsized personality. But the fact that the two are inseparable is not a reason for either to celebrate, at least if capitalistic results are the goal of Chobani's investors (which is no doubt the case for TPG). Both would be well advised to begin re-separating into two distinct personalities - no matter how long Hamdi's tenure may last.  Too many great companies have had to rebound from the inevitable surgical removal of the founder from his company. And, too many founders have found themselves with a large void in their lives.

While Chobani is apparently now seeking a COO (rather than replacing the CEO), Ulukaya's presence and stature will make this a difficult job to fill. In fact, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the board and its private equity investors, only succumbed to keeping its founder around to now seek a buyer for the company rather than trying to navigate what will surely be a fragile founder transition.

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