AN ENTREPRENEUR who invested about $30 million in a Melbourne yoghurt factory recently has been named one of the world's newest billionaires.
Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish-born businessman who started his yoghurt company Chobani only seven years ago in a dilapidated factory in the US, now has an estimated net worth of about $US1.1 billion, according to data compiled by news company Bloomberg.
The 40-year-old, dubbed the ''Steve Jobs of yoghurt'' by Forbes magazine, has taken his business from five employees to more than 1000 staff and the brand has become the best-selling yoghurt in the US.
Chobani is also investing heavily in Australia. Last year the company acquired a small dairy plant in Dandenong South from Bead Foods, the producers of Gippsland Dairy products, to make Chobani products for the first time outside the US. About 50 locals have been hired so far.
The Greek yoghurt produced there is being sold nationally through Woolworths, and in Coles from today. The factory is already producing yoghurt but will officially open on December 5.
In an interview with MySmall Business last February, Mr Ulukaya said: ''This Australian experience is going to open the door to us for the rest of the world.''
Mr Ulukaya, the sole owner of Chobani, has never appeared on an international wealth ranking, but is now part of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helu tops the list with an estimated net worth of $US76.6 billion, while Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart comes in at 35th with an estimated net worth of $US19.1 billion.
It's been a rapid rise to wealth for the businessman, who grew up on his parents' dairy farm in eastern Turkey and, wanting to avoid the farming life, moved to New York in 1994 to learn English and study for a master's degree in business.
His career direction changed after a visit from his father, who was distressed at the lack of good cheese in the US. At his father's suggestion, Mr Ulukaya began making his own fetta cheese on a small scale.
A few years later he saw an ad for an old Kraft plant for sale in a town about an hour from his home. After a visit, he says he bought the factory with the help of a Small Business Administration loan, began making yoghurt and the rest is history.
At present Mr Ulukaya's grip on the company is being threatened by competitors and his former wife, Ayse Giray, a paediatrician, who sued him in New York last month.
Last February he said growing the business had changed his life. ''It's the journey of my life. I'm not the same person I was five years ago,'' he said. ''Success is a beautiful thing but it can change you, it can turn you upside down. It's an amazing feeling.''