On your list of business priorities today, where does "community" rank?
Probably not very high. I think most business owners hear the word "community" and think of sponsoring a local event or sports team, or perhaps granting employees time-off to volunteer for local non-profits. Worthwhile endeavors, no doubt.
But there's another way to think about community. I was recently introduced to the story of Chobani, the natural Greek yogurt company based in upstate New York. It's a remarkable story, captured in the Ted talk given by Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya in April this year. It's not just that Ulukaya had very little personal capital yet managed to secure a loan to buy an 85-year-old-run down factory from Kraft in 2005. What's most remarkable is that his first decision as factory owner was to hire back four of the original 55 workers, including the production manager - the same production manager who had toured the factory with Ulukaya and expressed a deep sense of regret and burden that the factory had failed under his watch. Ulukaya went on to hire back most of the original 55 workers and many more after that.
Touring that factory in 2005, most of us would have concluded that this was a decrepit plant in the middle of nowhere, part of an area in secular decline, with little chance for revitalization. But Ulukaya saw a community of committed people who were willing to work to build something worthwhile, something special.
Being open to possibility. Listening carefully to the stories of real people with deep local history. Prioritizing employees and community. These were the leadership qualities that created Chobani and turned it into one of the most popular yogurt brands in America.
But what also stands out to me in the Chobani story are the key attributes of those first hires: responsibility...obligation...care...commitment. These are attributes upon which we can build durable enterprises and resilient communities.
Invest in community. Prioritize people. Profit will follow soon enough.