Chobani CEO Surprises Employees With Ownership Stake in the Company

Some employees could be millionaires if the company is sold or goes public.

— -- Chobani's CEO Hamdi Ulukaya gave 2,000 full-time employees a surprise gift today in the form of an ownership stake in the company.

Employees were handed white packets detailing how many shares they were given, based on tenure. The shares can be converted into stock or cash if the company goes public or sells itself.

In a letter to employees obtained by ABC News, Ulukaya explained what he called "Chobani shares," allowing every full-time member to "receive awards that provide an opportunity to share in the growth of the company over time."

"My dream, from day one, was to share our success with this entire family—for us all to have a stake in our future, working together to grow Chobani and furthering our mission as a modern food company," Ulukaya wrote.

The company's value was estimated between $3 billion and $5 billion when private equity firm TPG Capital loaned Chobani $750 million two years ago. Based on the $3 billion valuation, the average Chobani employee payout would be $150,000 though some employees could have shares worth over $1 million, The New York Times first reported. TPG has warrants that can convert to nearly 10 percent of equity in the company, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant, founded Chobani in 2005. Chobani changed the way American consumers perceived Greek yogurt and the company now faces increasing competition in the niche market.