- Chobani hired its former president and chief operating officer Kevin Burns to return to the position, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal, which referenced an internal company memo. Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya tweeted a welcome to Burns on Thursday evening. Burns held the position prior to Peter McGuinness, whose departure from the company was first reported last week.
- Burns, who joined the company in 2014 as a partner at private equity firm and Chobani investor TPG Inc., played a vital role in taming its expenses, improving logistics and making it profitable at a critical point in its growth story. He left Chobani in 2016 to become CEO of Juul Labs.
- Burns will be one of several new executives at Chobani, which reportedly saw a large recent exodus that came at the same time as the company’s decision to delay its long-awaited IPO. Chobani, which confidentially filed paperwork to go public last summer and filed a public report in November, reportedly will not go public until later this year or 2023, according to The Wall Street Journal.
When Burns left Chobani in 2016, Business Insider reported a letter to employees from Ulukaya that said the executive would “always be part of the family.”
Now, with Chobani at an inflection point, Burns is coming back to that home. He brings deep knowledge on Chobani’s operations and culture, which could prove useful as the manufacturer continues to broaden its product portfolio beyond Greek yogurt.
“I believe the company has just begun its transformation and category expansion that will fuel its growth over the coming years,” Burns said in the memo announcing his return to Chobani, according to The Wall Street Journal.
While Burns left Chobani on good terms in 2016, the business venture he moved to next was a bit more controversial. Burns served as CEO of e-cigarette company Juul for two years, abruptly stepping down in 2019 as criticism about its targeting of teenagers reached its peak.
At his most recent job, leading San Francisco-based online service Alto Pharmacy, Burns led the company in raising $450 million — $250 million in 2020 and $200 million in January. Under his leadership, Alto also expanded to major metropolitan areas and is able to serve more than 41 million people, and pioneered an app for better communication about prescriptions between health professionals.
There’s a lot of fertile ground for Burns to build on at Chobani. The company has been on an expansion and innovation tear in recent years, moving out of the dairy yogurt case into diverse categories including plant-based yogurts, coffee, peanut butter and milk. Chobani’s filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission indicated that its sales had increased at a compound annual growth rate of 19% between fiscal years 2010 and 2020, and there still could be a large amount of growth in store with the right leader at the helm.
There is also the matter of guiding Chobani through its IPO, whenever it may happen. With his operational expertise, Burns has not led a company as it went public. (Alto Pharmacy was reportedly going to go public through a special purpose acquisition company last year, but talks fell through.) However, considering the turnaround Burns made happen during his first tour at Chobani, he is likely to have the expertise to prepare the company for IPO, as well as the savvy for determining the best time to go public.
Burns’ obvious chemistry with Ulukaya and the rest of Chobani could prove useful as the company is in transition. Chobani will also need to replace its chief people officer, chief strategy officer and chief corporate affairs officer, all of whom recently left the company, according to The Wall Street Journal.