Let us introduce a new series we are launching to spotlight individuals within the Stephen M. Kellen Term Member Program. Drawing on the enormous amount of talent and expertise within the Council’s Term Member Program, this series will feature a term member in conversation with a fellow term member discussing their career path, how they got to where they are, the challenges they have faced along the way, and the current work they are doing. We hope this regular series will provide an opportunity for Council term members to better engage and learn from one another, draw upon shared experiences within the group, and connect across geographies.
Our first installment in this series will feature third-year term member Nishant Roy, chief of strategic operations at Chobani, in conversation with fifth-year term member Alex Yergin, data strategist at Booz Allen Hamilton. For those of you who do not yet know him, Nishant’s impressive career has included serving in the United States Air Force and being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, working as an analyst in the private sector for Goldman Sachs, joining government as special advisor to the Administrator at USAID, and now working with Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya as chief of strategic operations.
YERGIN: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us. My name is Alex Yergin. I’m a data strategist focusing on innovation at Booz Allen Hamilton based in Washington, D.C., and I will be presiding over today’s conversation.
Today’s discussion is the first in what the Council hopes will be a long-running series spotlighting individual term members and their real awesome work and personality and everything about them. I can speak for Meghan, Sam, and the team at CFR when I say that the Council’s really looking forward to showcasing the enormous talent and just overall wealth of really interesting and engaging folks in the Stephen M. Kellen Term Member Program in the coming months, which brings me to our discussion this evening with Nishant Roy, based in New York City. Many of you have already had the pleasure of meeting Nishant, but for those of you unfamiliar with him, he’s had a really interesting career path. He started in the U.S. Air Force, took him then to Goldman Sachs and other places on Wall Street to Washington, D.C., where he served at USAID, and now for the last five years or so, he’s been at Chobani, first as chief of staff to the CEO and now the chief of strategic operations. And he’s also just a really awesome person.
Thank you so much for being with us here tonight, Nishant.
ROY: Thanks, Alex. So great to be here and kudos to you for actually putting this all together.
YERGIN: Well, thank you. I just thought there were a lot of really interesting people that we needed to hear from.
So obviously you have a really impressive and amazing resume, but what I’d actually like to start with is kind of, what is the most surprising thing about you that somebody might not know looking at your career?
ROY: I think a lot of folks may not know that I’m a father, first and foremost, of two amazing girls, Anaya (ph) and Zara (ph). And I think what other folks may not know is I’m also really, really, really happily married; I’m not just saying this because my wife is going to be watching this. But I think those are probably the two most surprising things. Otherwise, I wear my heart on my sleeve, so I think a lot of folks know how I feel about certain things and whatnot.
YERGIN: So quick question on your daughters: Have you got them started on yogurt yet?
ROY: Of course. Of course. That was the first thing they ate. They had Chobani whole milk yogurt. It was the very, very first thing. Then it was mashed-up avocados following that.
YERGIN: Great. So since this is a term member discussion, I thought maybe we’d start with, how did you find out about the Term Member Program and how did you get involved?
ROY: I was—so I was working at USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development, from 2010 to 2014, and a lot of the really thoughtful, substantive experts that Raj Shah, who formally ran the agency during that time, would call in to get advice on particular regions of the world, they all happened to have this underlying credit to CFR. And then later on I learned that there is this CFR term membership program, and the who’s who, I think, of folks that are in D.C. were members of this program and became this kind of elite group. For me, I never thought, one, I could even get into a program like this; it’s just really humbling to even be a part of the community. But then later on, when I moved back to New York following the administration, I actually, while working the private sector, started to reach out to other folks in the private sector and found out they were also members of the Council on Foreign Relations. They were full-time members. And so I started to understand from them what sort of advantages they got with their own business practices by being members of the Council on Foreign Relations and they talked a great deal about understanding risks that are out there in the world; then they said, you really should consider doing the Term Member Program. Well, I was just coming up on that final age where you term out from the Term Member Program, and I applied and I was lucky enough to have been accepted into the community.
YERGIN: Great. And what has being a term member meant for you? Kind of, what have you gotten out of it? Just what are your thoughts on being a term member?
ROY: For me, it’s awesome to actually engage with folks that are in this same kind of critical path in our careers, our lives. Some of us are about to have kids, some of us have kids, some of us are buying our homes, some of us are buying our second or third home and whatnot. Folks are looking at their businesses, folks are looking within their own career development in the public sector, but we all have a pretty similar—we’re all at pretty similar stages in life so it’s nice to just put aside what is the topic of the day when you think about the world and actually relate with other individuals, and particularly during the pandemic it was just nice how CFR in particular got us to have term membership happy hours and whatnot, so it was great to engage in those, like, short, small sessions, which is where you and I actually first happened to meet.
And then one of the other things that I think was great about the program pre-pandemic was just being able to connect with people live. This is—we’re all tribal by nature so it’s just nice to engage with folks that are like-minded, worldly, and always willing to learn.
YERGIN: Great. Yeah, no, I mean, it really is an amazing program and there are amazing people here. Meeting people like you have been one of the great joys of this.
So let’s start with your career, then. So you began obviously serving in the Air Force. Kind of, what brought you into the Air Force and what was that experience like?
ROY: So I grew up in Long Island, New York. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do post-high school. What I did know was I didn’t take high school as seriously as I probably should have. And at that point in time, I said, look—I come from an Indian background. My father said, look, I’ll absolutely go fund your education; go pursue a Ph.D., go pursue an M.D., or something like that where you become a professional. And I didn’t feel like that was in the cards for me because I hadn’t taken high school seriously. I said, look, I think I want to pave the path for myself, not have my father go expend serious bucks on college at this point in time. I’m thinking about wanting to travel, I’m thinking about wanting to gain some sort of discipline. And most importantly, my family is a family of immigrants. We immigrated here from India. I happen to be—I was fortunate enough to have been born here, and this country has offered us an enormous amount of opportunity and potential, and so I wanted to find a way to give back and kind of check those other boxes as well, so I—we ultimately invited recruiters from the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Air Force and ultimately landed on the Air Force, largely because of its focus on education and the transferable skill sets you can bring from military life to private life or even back into public sector but on the civilian side of things. So it was a pretty awesome experience to have joined. I happened to join pre-9/11 in 2000, and then I ended up leaving after my tour in Iraq, which was in 2004, right after the big invasion on our part.
YERGIN: So that was actually something that I found interesting, obviously, that you had signed up before 9/11. How did 9/11 kind of change either—did it change sort of your view of what you were doing and how you viewed, you know, your endeavor being in the Air Force?
ROY: It changed my career trajectory within the military like that. I happen to understand and speak Urdu as well as Hindi; there was a need for folks with that skill set, that language skill set. I said, look, I’m in the military and I know there’s a bunch of folks that are probably on right now that are a member of the armed services and the Air Force doesn’t always get its due credit from other branches, but I said, hey, if I’m in the military, I want to get into really learning about combat arms and I want to understand a little bit more about this career field called security forces, which is basically the light infantry of the United States Air Force, and I said, I want to find a way in which to be a little bit more tactical, meaningful experiences from that perspective, and I said, let’s really challenge ourselves; like, otherwise I was living a pretty cush lifestyle growing up in Long Island. I said it’s time to really put yourself in an uncomfortable position, which was great. I think the military actually helped me to understand how to deal with feeling like you’re in an uncomfortable environment, which was a good life lesson I think that I carried on, you know, post the military.
YERGIN: So speaking of that, what was the transition like from military to civilian life, and from your own experience, kind of, what lessons do you have for other veterans who are going to go—who are going through that transition or will go through that transition?
ROY: Yeah. So for folks that are leaving uniformed service to come back into the civilian life, it’s daunting. You’re in this wonderful safety net where everything’s taken care of. You have your health care. You have your legal. You have housing, your food. All of those things are squared away for you in the military. Coming into the private sector, you realize, oh, my gosh, I have to account for all of those things that were taken care of by somebody as a part of this big institution. And what I would say for those folks that are leaving military service and now making their way back into civilian life, it is challenging, but there are a ton of services that are available, either through the VA or through some of your larger banks, which are phenomenal training grounds to enter back into civilian life. But for me personally, it wasn’t as abrupt of a feeling leaving military service to come back into the civilian sector because I ended up leaving the military and I ended up enrolling right into college, while also working for former President Clinton at the Clinton Foundation, so I go to still work on service-related projects which scratched that itch for me, and then I had a focus on wanting an objective, of wanting to complete college as quickly as possible, so my contemporaries had already graduated from college and I was four years behind because I had enlisted right out of high school.
So I felt the eagerness to want to go get my degree done as soon as possible, so I had two mandates, one was continue my work with President Clinton and the other was to finish school as quickly as possible. So it wasn’t as abrupt of a transition back, but I definitely still had some elements, like I’m sure other folks may have, given their deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere. Some elements of PTSD—and PTSD can mean so many different things to different people. It’s obviously not unique to just folks that have served in uniform, but for folks that have served in uniform, you know, these are the wounds that are not evident and these are—getting the right help was extremely helpful for my personal transition back into civilian life.
YERGIN: So on that point, because I think—I mean, obviously, with veterans coming out with PTSD—and also the general population as well; there are a lot of people who, you know, should seek help and aren’t—are there any organizations you’re involved in or any advice you can give to people on sort of how to raise awareness around hey, if you’re having issues you should seek help, there’s nothing wrong it, there’s nothing, you know, unmanly about doing this? So yeah, would love your thoughts on that.
ROY: You know, I’ll kind of reflect on one incident that I had. For the longest time, I said, look, getting out of the service, getting any sort of disability payments or anything like that, those are for folks that lost limbs or that, you know, they had real serious damage to their bodies. I think it’s not about getting disability, it’s about getting the right assistance. You don’t even have to get disability at this point in time. But finding the right resources is—could be challenging, but thankfully Wounded Warrior Project is a remarkable institution, IAVA, and then the VA itself having its interlock with folks in different states across our country. You know, getting access to those resources was extremely helpful.
So the incident that I had was—I was playing video games, actually, as innocent as this is, with my younger brother and I thought he was cheating big time. I got super aggravated, I threw the controller, I happened to punch a hole in the door, which I didn’t even think was physically possible of me to go do at that point in time, but I did, and that was a bit scary to do, and it’s a total non-commensurate reaction to a simple video game, and so I knew I had a problem there. And then later on, I would go to the store and I found that as you’re going to check out, Alex—I don’t know if you—when you’re at a pharmacy and you go to the checkout and you see that there’s a bunch of candy bars and disposable cameras and whatnot that are just below the counter. Somebody was innocently reaching into my personal space and going to grab that camera because I happened to be next in line. Well, for whatever reason, I felt like they were going to grab a pistol that I may have had on my hip, which I did not, and I reacted, put them in an arm bar and put them down on the ground. I knew at that point for sure that I had some issues that I need to address, and at that point in time, I reached out to the Wounded Warrior Project, they quickly aligned me with somebody at the VA, and I was able to go sit down with counselors. And it’s pretty remarkable, actually; you would think it’s a little hokey but sitting down with counselors to talk through what you experienced, how you experienced it, and how best to address it, and it’s different for each individual. It was pretty eye-opening and I think, as the years progressed, I’ve been able to go check out at the store without feeling like I’m going to have to put somebody in an arm bar and I can certainly play video games with my brother again, which is great.
And, you know, Fourth of July, for instance, was another holiday that I couldn’t actually celebrate, ironically enough; as much as I love the United States of America, I couldn’t properly celebrate it because every time I would hear fireworks I would hear gunfire and it would make me feel just uncomfortable or on edge or a little bit heightened in terms of the senses, so those holidays and everything—you know, I have returned to some degree of normalcy, which is phenomenal. I’m lucky to have gotten the help that I did when I did. And I’m also lucky to have not had the magnitude of PTSD that other folks unfortunately suffer from.
So I would say it’s a real thing, from my own experience, and I would also say that it’s not unmanly to go reach out to some of these NGOs to just connect with folks in the community, because you can feel alone when you look around in the civilian sector and say, you know what? You don’t quite understand what I went through. It’s a different experience for different people and it’s not about a handout, it’s about just the community again, building that community and being with folks that have worn the uniform and been deployed to the places you’ve been to.
YERGIN: That’s really interesting and thanks for saying that.
So let’s fast forward a bit: Would love to hear about kind of how you—you know, how you—I know you’ve done a lot of things but sort of how you made the transitions, then, going from leaving the military, you went to the Clinton Foundation, to ending up with Chobani, and would also love to hear about kind of what you’re doing at Chobani, especially since the chief of staff role is one that maybe wasn’t traditionally a corporate role but now you’re seeing more of them, and I know you’ve moved on from that role but maybe you can just talk about, again, how you got to Chobani and what your role has been there.
ROY: Sure. Sure. So after I’d left the military service, I ended up—I was working at the Clinton Foundation while also studying at St. John’s, ended up graduating in two years, which was awesome. This is an important data point because what I ended up doing next was a little bit unorthodox. I ended up going to work at Goldman Sachs and the reason behind that move was I was sitting down at the Foundation, at that point in time, very flat organization, and I had gotten an offer to go do a new job at the Foundation, and one day, President Clinton, who I happened to be doing some advance work with, said, look, you look a little bit, you know, perplexed about something, and I said, well, I have a job offer to stay with you guys and I also have a job offer to go work at Goldman Sachs.
And he said, well, why don’t you forget both and go off to law school? (Laughs.) And I said, sir, with all due respect, why? And he said, well, you have far more life experience than a lot of your peers because of your time in the military and what law school does for you is it actually teaches you to think outside the box and just a function of that education makes you a better problem solver. And I said, sir, with all due respect, I just finished my four-year degree in two years, zero desire to go spend three years getting a law degree; I’d rather just go make some money and start getting my hands dirty again and actually getting some stuff—I love being an operator. And he said, well, how about an engineering degree? Again, engineers think outside the box, it’s a function of their training. And I said, not quite sure; I was hemming and hawing. And then he said, Bob—who happened to be the gentleman that was running the Clinton Global Initiative at the time. He was a Rhodes scholar like President Clinton. He had gone to Yale Law School like President Clinton. He also happened to be a former partner at Goldman Sachs. And Bob said, after learning the fact pattern, he quickly just looked at me and he said, this is a no-brainer; you go work at Goldman Sachs, reason being is that you need to get private sector experience; two, you need to make some money, and then, three, what the public sector is missing, which I see your passion is in the public sector because you want to solve and work on big problems—what the public sector is missing is folks that fully appreciate a bottom line and sustainable programming. The way we’ve all been raised is you rely upon multi-donor dollars, you rely upon big budgets from government and whatnot, but if there is a right way to toggle private sector and government work together it’s through this model of understanding the private sector and understanding the bottom line. So I ended up going to work at Goldman Sachs. I was there for two and a half years in the midst of the financial crisis, and what was fascinating about that is that a lot of folks unfortunately were getting laid off at the top or folks left out of their own volition, and because of that attrition, I got to take on a lot more responsibility at a very young age.
And then ultimately what President Clinton had said kind of rang true. A good friend of mine, Raj Shah, was getting appointed into government to be the chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He said, why don’t you come join me and be my special assistant, which I didn’t quite know what it meant. And he said, it doesn’t matter; you’ll learn a couple of things. And we were only there for about six months before Secretary Clinton had nominated Raj to go run USAID and then I happened to make the transition over to USAID with Raj, was there for close to five years before transitioning back to the private sector. And on a whim, I was doing projects with Raj on the private side because he had then joined the Rockefeller Foundation as its president today, and I happened to be doing some private sector projects for Raj when I got a LinkedIn message from Chobani, the People Team, and I saw that the founder and CEO was looking at my profile on Chobani—or from Chobani was looking at my profile, and the next thing I knew, the People Team said, hey, it would be great if you can come meet with our founder. And after about three months or so of “dating,” we ended up—he ended up asking me, hey, do you want to come and work at Chobani as my chief of staff? And it’s been a wonderful ride. Only recently I’ve made this transition out of the chief of staff role. I think most people are in this role for about two to two and a half years, and it’s modeled after the aide-de-camp to a general in the military and then you obviously saw it in politics, like you said, Alex, and then it’s now evolved into the business structure, or family offices are starting to pick up on this role as well.
So this role, I would say, is the utility player on the team. You have to have an open mind, a great ability to want to go solve problems, and you want to cause the least amount of wake in an underlying organization. And so Hamdi gave me a number of different problems sets to kind of work through in my tenure, which was five years long, and now ultimately my job is going to be chief of strategic operations. So I’m actually going to get far more involved in just this asset, just this business, because Hamdi owns a number of other businesses that I was getting involved in. And now my role is going to evolve to take on broader responsibilities on the executive team, which is great.
YERGIN: So that then leads to the question that I wanted to ask, which is about my favorite topic, yogurt. So I think when many of us were kids we remember it was all, you know, low-fat yogurt, but flavored that now we maybe wouldn’t want to touch because it’s high in sugar, and then we’ve seen, you know, endless trends about low-fat, high-fat, whatever, plant-based. So I guess two questions here: first—or three questions. You know, how do you figure out, kind of, where yogurt is headed? Do you view your guys—yourself as sort of reactive to trends in the yogurt market or do you seek to set them? And then, finally, where is yogurt headed next?
ROY: So all good questions. I would say we—in some cases we’re reacting to what we see in the market. So when Chobani was launched—it launched as a brand in 2005; Fage was already out there in the market, Dannon was out there in the marketplace. This whole Greek yogurt, high-protein, thicker yogurt was a category that had just been kind of created when Chobani entered into the market, and within five years they had already reached about a billion or so in sales, while being, you know, as an operational business. So they created this whole category and what they did to kind of change the trends in yogurt, altogether yogurt consumption, was they reduced the amount of sugar, so if you think about yogurt consumption and what the product looked like back in 2005, I think we would all be slightly appalled. It was about forty-eight grams to fifty grams of sugar. What Chobani did when it first entered into the market was it actually had a pretty high level of sugar; I would say probably around twenty or so grams, and then it started to quickly graduate it down as consumers demanded more and more that their sugar intake reduce. We followed the science, when it came down to it.
Another trend that was in bigger yogurt play was using this hormone which is called RBST. RBST is a hormone for cows that helps improve milk yields, so this is unique of Chobani to do as it compared to its investors there—I’m sorry, its competitors that are out there in the marketplace. But the competitors were totally fine with using RBST. For us, we said, look, dairy farmer X, Y and Z, we’ll pay you actually a premium to what our competitors are paying, so long as you can validate that the milk that we’re buying from you is RBST-free. And we put it on our packaging. We were pretty proud about that aspect of it.
Ultimately, as the sales for Chobani started to grow, it became the norm in the industry. People wanted to align price, they wanted to align the same cup—if you look at what the cup of yogurt looked like also back in 2005, compared to when Chobani entered the market, the entire style of the cup had changed as a function of Hamdi and his vision of wanting to deliver yogurt that’s following this acronym of delicious, nutritious, natural, and accessible. I know far more about yogurt than I probably ever thought to imagine in my life, but it’s been a fascinating ride to see what sort of trends at least this brand alone is driving. I would say the future is—the future—one of the projects that we’ve worked on now and it’s just coming into the marketplace today, Alex, is the desire for consumers that are either self-diagnosed as lactose-intolerant or have a sensitivity to sugar or just happen to be—unfortunately, there’s—the onset of diabetes in this country is extremely high, so this has never been done before ever and actually in the history of yogurt, but we have launched a zero-sugar yogurt. So again, following that acronym, we had to use only natural ingredients, so there’s no chemicals or anything like that that are in there. The sweetener, just so everyone knows, is allulose, it is stevia, and it is monk fruit. And the combination of those three together actually make it not as sharp when you eat stevia-kind-of-related products.
So I would say that’s what’s happening now and I think the future is building more of a platform on this zero-sugar, so there’s much more to come and I think the thing for the dairy industry at large, there’s got to be some real innovation that is going to have to take place, because, unfortunately, since the 1920s in this country, you’re seeing a precipitous fall in dairy consumption as well as the number of dairy farms that are in our nation and some of it’s because of labor, some of it’s because of the lactose-intolerance, some of it is because there’s a myth out there that lactose, you know, promotes inflammation and so forth, so there’s a lot of reasons you can contribute as to—that you can say are the drivers for the decrease in dairy consumption but there’s going to be some need to be some real serious innovation on that side in order to sustain—and I’m already starting to see some of it, by the way, just in the form of some products like Fairlife, which has got this ultra-filtered milk, not a product of us so it’s weird that I’m speaking so highly of a competitor, but we have seen some really good value-added milk products really scale in size and that’s keeping the dairy industry in a really good place.
YERGIN: Great. Well, this is fascinating and I can’t wait to see what’s next from you guys. I will definitely be trying it.
So now we’re ready to open it up to questions so I—Meghan, do you just—I see you unmuted—do you just want to kind of go over how the Q&A’s going to work?
OPERATOR: Sounds great.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
YERGIN: And a reminder that today is on the record.
OPERATOR: Exactly. So our first question will come from Flynn Coleman, and you should be unmuted.
Q: Hi. Can you hear me OK?
ROY: Hey, Flynn.
ROY: How are you?
Q: I’m good. The first thing I wanted to do is thank you very much for your service—
ROY: Thank you. My honor.
Q: —and to mention that the less- and zero-sugar options are pretty good. (Laughs.)
Q: Just as a follow-up, you kind of set me up for that discussing, you know, the future of environmental, you know, animal rights and all of that because you’re such an innovative leader in the field thinking about non-dairy options in the future. I would be curious how that comes together from the policy, you know, to the commercial side and what you’re thinking about on that, as a policy and as an environmental, you know, thought.
ROY: Sure. Thank you for that.
So for Chobani, one of the cool experiences for me—when I joined five years ago we had a very different brand. It was more, like, angular. One of the things that Hamdi wanted to do, actually, was to become more of a modern food company. He saw food in this country as a big problem. Innovation in particular is a big problem when it comes down to the bigger CPG—when I say CPG, consumer products goods businesses—and what I mean by that is there are some remarkable businesses that start and ultimately they garner a number of millions of dollars in sales and then some big conglomerate comes over and offers a really big paycheck and puts that brand into their institution, and when they do that they offer better distribution, better sales, and so as a founder of those businesses—and I’ve gotten to engage with a lot of them because we have this incubator program at Chobani today that works with food entrepreneurs. When we spoke to those founders they said, hey, that’s so exciting, that’s such—and people put these millions of dollars of paycheck for us to see and it’s really exciting, it’s very tempting to do, is to sell out to these bigger things. And so when we ultimately started talking to more of these founders, we said hey, we have to think about how to disrupt food in general because we can’t keep going to this vicious cycle; we need to find a way to foster growth of those founder-led businesses. And so what we are ultimately going to—likely be doing in the future is looking to potentially acquire some businesses at some point in time and foster their growth.
When it comes down to the non-dairy options and the environmental aspects of things, as a part of being a modern food brand, Hamdi wanted to scale out into oat-based products, and so now we are the number—depending on what week you’re looking at, we’re either number two or three in the market today in terms of oat milk that’s provided into the marketplace, and our Australia business has oats and yogurt in a pouch that’s being distributed all across that country. So we’re going to continue to innovate on the non-dairy options, but it’s part of the overall growth of the brand itself.
OPERATOR: OK, we also have a written question from Cameron Thomas-Shah, who asks, can you expand on your lesson learned about the value of private sector experience for government employees regarding addressing big ideas and sustainability?
ROY: Sure. Yeah, I—you know, there’s an analogy that I kind of use and it’s very simplified because I am a big fan of our government. I am—but I do see some of the—how slow certain things are. You know, one can debate from administration to administration how efficient decisions are made—what the efficiency is of decisions being made at the PC, DC, NSC levels, et cetera, when it comes down to White House meetings, but I would say at the private sector—sorry, on the government side of things, you know, that takes some time; you’re taking into account the most optimal decision but then at the same time you’re taking into account what are the externalities? Who are the folks that got disadvantaged by this decision? And so you have a more comprehensive decision tree to kind of think through.
On the private sector, it’s as simple as—OK, is my profitability and my margin where it should be? Is it aligned with how the industry is today? And if it’s not, then what adjustments do I need to make? Do I need to change my price? Do I need to change the productivity? Do I need to—when I change my price, for instance, that has downstream effects to my consumers. My consumers are you folks, you know? I don’t want to have to raise price because that’s against the accessibility aspect of it, but that does definitely displace some folks from wanting to buy particular products because of the way that they’re priced. So that’s a decision that’s not necessarily made in the private sector to think about those folks that are going to—that are now going to be disadvantaged by a higher price, whereas in government, you’ve got to take that into account because you’re thinking about everybody that’s in the pie.
And the—really, maybe it’s a bad analogy to give, but the analogy that I give is if you think about an intersection and you find out there are a number of different traffic accidents that are happening at that intersection, then you go to your local member of Congress or you go to your local representative and you say, hey, there’s a number of traffic accidents that are happening over here, it would be great if you could put in a stoplight. Well, then there’s a traffic study, there’s an environmental study, we have the budget for it—you know, that process takes a bit of time. And then, in the meantime, what the private sector can do in the interim is put a gas station at each corner or put a diner at each corner or some combination of the two. You can have the adopt the street and put in signs, encourage folks to slow down. They don’t have the authority to put in that stoplight but they can do their part in which to reduce the number of traffic incidences at the intersection. So I think learning about how the private sector operates, how it wants to be a good stakeholder in its communities, a lot of businesses want to be great stakeholders in their communities, and finding the right partner in government is something that’s the optimal solution. I don’t think it’s a government is great and it’s at the behest of private sector and vice versa.
OPERATOR: I think we have time for another question. The next question will come from Mansoor Shams.
Q: Hello. Mansoor Shams here, also a U.S. Marine veteran, so, happy to meet you.
You’ve clearly, like, outlined a very untraditional sort of path, and yet you’ve accomplished a lot on the way. I’m just wondering, where do you see yourself, you know, five years, ten years from now, you know, and beyond? Thank you.
ROY: Thank you, Mansoor, and thank you for your service. I don’t know if you’re still on, but are you still in the military?
Q: I’m a veteran like yourself, yeah.
ROY: Oh, excellent. Excellent. Thank you for your service.
Q: Thank you.
ROY: By the way, I know Alex has heard this from me before, but if there is one branch of the service that I ultimately wanted to join it was the Marine Corps because you guys have the coolest uniforms and you get probably the coolest operations to go execute on. But that’s for another conversation, Mansoor. I will say—and I’m unbelievably proud, though, of what I’ve done with the Air Force.
I would say for the next five years, I’d love to still be here in Chobani. I’ve just taken on this new role in strategic operations, so it’s a matter of me now digging in deeper into this business and really getting a better handle of our product mix and productivity measures. And to go to the earlier question on addressing some environmental aspects, we’re a manufacturing business so I want to find a way in which to continue to do good for the world while doing good for business at the same time, and that’s not a feat that’s easy to achieve in just a few years. I think I’m going to have to be here for at least five to achieve that. And then the rest is in God’s hands. I’m not quite sure.
YERGIN: Great. Well, I think we just have time for one more question I’m going to quickly ask. So your CEO has—obviously has, you know, has been out there on refugees and other issues, so I think we’re living in an era where increasingly companies have to stand for something in a way that maybe they didn’t have to in the past, and there’s a lot of discussion about why this is going on, but I would—curious—you know, working in a company that has such a strong position on a lot of very important issues kind of how you view that, how your CEO views that, and do you see the role of business shifting in America?
ROY: Yeah, I think particularly over the last few administrations you’re starting to see businesses take more of an active voice in the political debate and whatnot. It’s been fascinating. What Hamdi has is he’s got the Tent Partnership for Refugees and it’s a little bit different model than your traditional NGO. The way it works is we actually engage with private sector businesses. We teach those private sector businesses how to actually go hire refugees, and the theory of the case is this; it’s as simple as this: The moment that a refugee gets a job is the moment that they’re no longer a refugee, and what we mean by that is there is a number of different constituents across this country, whether they’re Democrats, Republicans, what have you, that didn’t necessarily subscribe to wanting to bring in more refugees into this country.
And, you know, in a case like Idaho, where you look at the politics of Idaho, it’s a bit more conservative than it is liberal, and when they found out that 30 percent of the workforce in Chobani happened to be refugees or immigrants and there is nineteen different languages being spoken in the factory, they didn’t view those individuals as—with this title of refugee; they viewed them to be the coach of their kid’s soccer team, they viewed them to be the local barista at their coffee shop, they view them to be members of the community, so the moment that they’re actually embed in and are working proactively in the community as—just like everybody else is a moment that they’re no longer getting this title of refugee. So what Hamdi wanted to do is take that mission of getting refugees hired into private businesses and scale it into getting even bigger businesses than Chobani to go do the exact same thing. And so today, for instance, on the Afghanistan issue and the number of Afghan refugees that have come over, this is near and dear to my heart because of having served over there, but we have over seventy businesses that have signed up today that are hiring refugees and the likes of Pfizer and Amazon, Gap, of course Chobani, and many others. So it’s exciting. I’m glad that Hamdi is doing that and now we’re going to have to think creatively again about what to do with respect to Afghan—sorry, with Ukraine refugees. But this is what Tent does for a living. It’s a remarkable institution. And yeah, I’m excited to see what they do next with the private sector.
YERGIN: Well, thank you so much. And I have to say, if there’s a takeaway line for me, definitely the thought of, you know—somebody with a job is no longer a refugee; that’s really quite a powerful way to think about it.
Well, thank you so much, Nishant, for doing this. This has been great.
Thank you, everyone, for joining. We’re really excited to have this series going. We’ll be doing this again in April—the date is to be announced—with Hagar Chemali and Brit Farmer. And if you’re interested in being involved in any further of these spotlights, either as a person being interviewed or a moderator themselves, just contact Meghan and Sam. But again, thank you very much, everyone. This has been great, and have a wonderful evening.
ROY: Thanks for moderating, Alex.
This is an uncorrected transcript.