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Chobani COO is leaving the yogurt maker

December 7, 2016
Food & Drink

Kevin Burns, Chobani’s COO and a crucial figure in the company’s recent turnaround, is leaving the yogurt maker.

Burns, who joined Chobani while a partner at private equity firm TPG in 2014, was once an expected successor to CEO Hamdi Ulukaya.

The company told employees of the departure on Friday, in a letter from Ulukaya that was obtained by Business Insider.

“As everyone knows, over the past 2.5 years Kevin’s had a big impact on Chobani,” Ulukaya wrote. “He put the Turkish nazar on his wrist on day one and never took it off,” he wrote, referring to the blue eye-shaped charm.

“With my full respect & support, Kevin’s going to be leaving Chobani on December 16th. His impact will stay with us for a long time and he’ll always be part of the family.”

Ulukaya has already interviewed several candidates to replace Burns and plans to announce the new hire within the next 60 to 90 days. Chobani declined to comment on the letter.

Burns joined Chobani after TPG offered the company a $750 million loan in April of 2014. At the time, Chobani was struggling financially following production issues and a product recall the prior year. As TPG’s head of global operations and a partner at the firm, Burns was crucial to negotiations between the investor and the yogurt maker.

As part of the deal, Burns joined Chobani as interim COO and president. The Wall Street Journal reported in March 2015 that Burns was key to improving the company’s procurement, distribution, and plant operations.

As Chobani stabilized following TPG’s investment, Burns was dubbed a “turnaround guru” by the New York Post. Both the Post and the Wall Street Journal reported that he was a top candidate to replace Ulukaya as CEO in early 2015.

Rumors of Burns’ ascendancy to CEO proved to be false, however. Ulukaya still serves as the company’s CEO.

“Nobody could think of Chobani without me and me without Chobani,” Ulukaya told Bloomberg in September 2015. “Walking away from this is walking away from my life.”

Chobani has been filling out the rest of its executive suite. In April, Chobani hired a new CFO, and in August, the company hired its first chief creative officer. In February, Ulukaya said that Chobani rejected investment offers from PepsiCo and others, due in part to the company’s desire to remain independent.

Bloomberg reported that Chobani began a refinancing process to repay TPG’s loan in September. According to Bloomberg, TPG will likely recoup more than $350 million on its investment.

By Kate Taylor

Source: Business Insider

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