Chobani yoghurt billionaire says solution to global refugee crisis is to hire them

In our latest roundup of the ultra-rich, the Turkish immigrant to the US encourages companies to follow his lead in employing refugees and Elon Musk’s Tesla gets a China tax break

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of Chobani, speaks at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, Illinois, November 1, 2017. (Photo by Jim Young / AFP)
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Hamdi Ulukaya

Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant who used a small business loan to build a best-selling yoghurt brand in the US, has a plan to solve the world’s growing refugee crisis: give them jobs.

During a trip to Colombia where he met business leaders and Venezuelan migrants, the billionaire founder of the Greek-style yoghurt producer Chobani said companies have a responsibility to help solve the global refugee emergency.

“The number one thing is hiring, a job,” he said in an interview in Bogota. “For a refugee, it’s day and night. That’s the point at which they find their life can continue.”

Mr Ulukaya, 46, is putting his money where his mouth is. Chobani has a policy of employing refugees at its US plants and he has pledged much of his personal fortune to the Tent Partnership for Refugees, a charity he founded. Since then he’s been travelling to recruit business leaders, pushing them to give refugees equal consideration when hiring employees.

“It’s good for the companies to be a part of this,” he said. “Because people five years or 10 years from now are going to question ‘What did you do about this? Why were you not part of this?’”

The UN Refugee Agency estimates the worldwide population of forcibly displaced people, which includes refugees and other migrants, has risen nearly 70 per cent over the past decade to roughly 71 million.

About 4 million Venezuelans have fled an economic and humanitarian crisis in their homeland. Some 1.4 million have settled in Colombia.

Mr Ulukaya said a “significant” number of businesses in the goods and services industries with operations in Latin America have agreed to join him in helping Venezuelan migrants in Colombia by providing employment and other initiatives.

Raised in a dairy-farming family in Turkey, Mr Ulukaya bought a shuttered Kraft Foods factory in upstate New York and started his company in 2007 using a loan from the US Small Business Administration. He turned the thick-style Chobani yoghurt into a household name in the US, where it is the No. 1 yoghurt by sales, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Mr Ulukaya’s net worth is estimated at $1.34 billion (Dh4.92bn), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In 2015, he signed on to The Giving Pledge campaign, popularised by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and promised to commit the majority of his personal wealth to end the global refugee crisis.

Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk attends the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song

Elon Musk

Elon Musk’s charm offensive in China appears to have paid off. During a visit last month to the country, the billionaire chief executive of Tesla won a tax exemption for the electric-car maker, got to promote his ground-digging Boring Company passion project and even drew praise on social media for his frugal food and accommodation choices — he was spotted eating dumplings and staying at the Holiday Inn.

Mr Musk also toured a factory Tesla is building in the country, its first outside of the US, and reportedly met China’s Transport Minister Li Xiaopeng on August 30. Later that day, China announced Tesla cars will be exempted from a 10 per cent purchase tax, something typically reserved for domestic makers of electric vehicles.

Tesla currently imports all of the cars it sells in China but plans to start making the Model 3, its top-selling vehicle, at the new plant near Shanghai later this year. The company has had significant support from China for the factory, securing as much as $521 million in loans from local banks.

China’s concession to one of America’s most high-profile companies stood out, coming amid heightened uncertainty over where the trade war between the two countries is headed. On September 1, the US slapped tariffs on roughly $110bn in Chinese imports and China will start rolling out higher levies on about $75bn of US goods in stages.

China plans to resume a suspended extra 25 per cent duty on US cars on December 15, with another 10 per cent on top for some vehicles. With existing general duties on autos taken into account, the total tariff charged on US-made cars would be as high as 50 per cent.

That gives extra reason for Mr Musk, who during his China trip praised the nation’s lead in global electric-car production, to begin manufacturing in the country soon while staying in the good graces of the Chinese government.

And although he didn’t get to announce the launch of Boring Company in China during this trip — as he indicated he would in August in a tweet — Mr Musk pitched his ideas to some local heavyweights. He met XiaoYaqing, head of China’s State Administration for Market Regulation, and got to share his vision of the project before he left.

But not before trying some of the local delicacies. The billionaire, who has his share of fans in China, was spotted waiting in line with his team to order and dine at a local restaurant, where an order of six dumplings costs 6 yuan (84 US cents).

Lululemon Athletica Inc's founder Chip Wilson arrives for the company's annual general meeting in Vancouver June 11, 2014. Wilson, the company's biggest shareholder, lashed out at the yogawear retailer's board on Wednesday, saying he had voted against keeping the company's new chairman and another director in their jobs because they are too focused on short-term growth. REUTERS/Ben Nelms (CANADA - Tags: BUSINESS)

Dennis Wilson

The billionaire founder of Lululemon has made $32.3m in three months off his investment in Anta Sports Products as the Chinese company’s shares soar despite multiple short-seller attacks.

Dennis Wilson has seen his stake in China’s biggest sportswear maker gain 32 per cent after strong earnings boosted shares last month, extending a rally that’s now at 72 per cent for the year. Anta reported 28 per cent growth in net income for the first half of 2019, beating analysts’ estimates.

Anta’s continued rally comes in defiance of attacks by short sellers Blue Orca Capital and Muddy Waters Capital, which issued critical reports less than six weeks apart earlier this year questioning the company’s accounting and corporate governance. Investors shrugged off the allegations — which the company said were untrue and showed a lack of knowledge about business operations — and sent its stock to a historic high.

The company has ambitions to become a global sportswear giant to rival Nike and Adidas. Last December, it agreed to pay $5.2bn for Finland’s Amer Sports Oyj, which makes Atomic ski equipment and Salomon ski boots. Mr Wilson’s subsequent investment in Anta was due to the fact that he had also been pursuing Amer, Anta said.

Mr Wilson’s 0.59 per cent stake in Anta is now valued at HK$1.03bn (Dh468m), up a third from the HK$778m he paid at the end of May.

2020 US Democratic Presidential hopeful US billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer speaks on-stage during the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting in San Francisco, California on August 23, 2019. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP)

Tom Steyer

US Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer made well over a billion dollars over the last decade from holdings that not only include the hedge fund he founded, but also investments in Chinese private equity firms, tech start-ups, pharmaceutical companies and nursing homes, his tax filings show.

The California financier and liberal activist had promised to release his tax forms once he entered the race. He also challenged President Donald Trump, the only president since Richard Nixon who hasn’t released his, to follow suit. Last month, Mr Steyer followed through by posting more than 2,600 pages of records to his website.

“The American public can have a clear picture of his charitable giving, political activities, and taxes paid,” his campaign said in a memo. “Tom has long committed to releasing his tax returns if he ever became a candidate for public office, and today’s disclosure makes good on that commitment.”

The release of Mr Steyer’s taxes offers a detailed yet incomplete look at his massive wealth and business success, which he has made central to his pitch to voters.

Mr Steyer and his wife, Kathryn Taylor, made $1.2bn between 2009 and 2017, much of it earned through capital gains. During that time, they also paid out $405.3m in federal and state taxes.

One of Mr Steyer’s most profitable years was 2012, when he reported making $174m after selling his stake in Farallon Capital, the hedge fund he founded. He reported making $189m in 2014.

The documents also show he made millions more through foreign investments, including stakes in companies headquartered in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and China.

Despite the claims of transparency, much is also left out. The documents, which repeatedly omit details about transactions and line items, are rife with annotations that instruct tax officials to refer to additional notes. Those notes, however, are not included in the release.

Mr Steyer’s taxes also show his increasing interest in politics. He donated $52,000 to political causes in 2009. But that shot up in 2014, when he plunged $67.6m into political groups, including his own NextGen America environmental non-profit.