Representative Justin Amash, a Republican from Michigan, became the first member of the GOP in Congress to state that President Trump’s behavior reached “the threshold for impeachment.” He stated in a tweet that he believed “President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.” Immediately the GOP went on the offense, with Trump calling Amash a “loser” and a “lightweight.” Amash’s response was that those in the GOP that questioned or criticized his statements “were resting their argument on several falsehoods.” An “outlier,” like Amash, can be a catalyst for change, but that change can largely depend on how much his voice is suppressed. Suppressed by others who do not believe in the outlier’s stance; do not believe the timing for the message is right; or have a personal grudge against the messenger. However, there are outliers that create positive change day after day.
For now, let’s steer the conversation towards another kind of outlier- CEOs that are going out on a limb to create positive change in their companies and around the world. As a leader, the outlier can propel the company and its employees forward; again, the “catalyst for change” principle. For example, Chobani’s CEO Hamdi Ulukaya announced the company would be paying off students’ lunch debt in Rhode Island’s Warwick Public Schools. The school had announced that children with debt on their lunch accounts would be given only a “sunflower butter and jelly sandwich” until their debt is paid off. This is widely referred to as “lunch shaming.” (The school system has since rescinded its policy.)
Ulukaya was born to a Kurdish shepherding family in Turkey. He arrived in America with little money and did not speak English. By 2002, he built a small cheese company, and against advice from friends and family, took out a loan to buy a Kraft yogurt factory that had recently closed and laid off its workforce. That became Chobani. Chobani has over 2,000 employees, with plants in New York, Idaho, and Australia. Ulukaya’s net worth is now $1.7 billion. As Ulukaya told Ergulen Toprak, “In 1994, I came to New York to study English and later became drawn to the idea that anyone can start something in America—all you needed was a dream and the willingness to take a risk,” Ulukaya said.
Ulukaya makes a point of hiring refugees as much as possible. He also has pledged to donate $700 million to help Kurdish refugees and also refugees around the world. In 2016, he gave his employees 10% ownership in Chobani. The number of shares given to employees was based on how much time they had worked at Chobani. The average amount of shares was $150,000.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, states that people that are outliers are given opportunities and seized them. Those opportunities could be the result of various factors, including socioeconomic status, adversity, culture, and luck. Some are in the right place at the right time; others spend hours perfecting their craft or passion. Most are a combination of the two. Ulukaya had to take the leap of leaving the life he had known and trust that things would work out for him. He also had to have the courage to follow his instinct even when others told him he was not making a wise choice in buying a closed factory. He was willing to take risks, particularly calculated risks.
The next time you are faced with a decision that you know in your gut is right, but everyone else is telling you no, maybe you should take that leap of faith. Doing some analysis and creating some spreadsheets before the leap is even better.