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.
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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.
Here’s the memo from Ulukaya in full:
Dear Chobani Family-
It’s been an important year for us & for our mission-from Chobani Shares & paid parental leave to new platforms like drinks & dips and plant expansions in Twin Falls, to name a few.
Our brand and company has never been stronger.
Our share continues to dominate as the #1 Greek yogurt brand, innovate and launch new products and we’re ending 2016 with strong double-digit sales & EBITDA growth.
I’m looking forward to getting together again with you all in the first week of January to share our 2016 successes and learnings, our 2017 growth plan and to thank you personally for all your hard work & passion this year.
Before I do, I wanted to share some news that I recently shared with the CMC.
As everyone knows, over the past 2.5 years Kevin’s had a big impact on Chobani.
He put the Turkish nazar on his wrist on day one and never took it off.
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.
As founder and CEO, I’ll of course continue to be involved in all aspects of the business on a day-to-day basis and Kevin’s direct reports will now report into me. And because we’ve invested so much in key talent over the last year, we’ve now got our strongest and most capable management team.
I’ve recently interviewed & spent quality time with several highly qualified candidates for Kevin’s role and plan to announce this person in the next 60-90 days.
In the meantime, pls join me in thanking Kevin for everything he’s done for Chobani.
Here’s to a strong finish in 2016 and a fast start in 2017.
Let’s keep rocking!