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Yogurt maker Chobani says it may tap turnaround expert to replace founder as CEO

Billionaire And Chobani Inc. Chief Executive Officer Hamdi Ulukaya InterviewBillionaire And Chobani Inc. Chief Executive Officer Hamdi Ulukaya Interview
Hamdi UlukayaPhotograph by Chris Ratcliffe — Bloomberg/Getty Images

By Lisa Baertlein and Ankush Sharma

Greek yogurt maker Chobani, battling intense competition in the grocery aisle, on Monday said it will name a new chief executive to replace its founder and may appoint its acting president, a turnaround expert from private equity firm TPG which lent the company $750 million last year.

Chobani plans to name a new chief executive in the first half of 2015 and among the candidates to replace company founder Hamdi Ulukaya as CEO is interim president and chief operating officer Kevin Burns, a senior partner at Texas-based TPG with a reputation as a turnaround expert with experience in manufacturing.

Ulukaya will remain chairman, Chobani’s Chief Marketing Officer Peter McGuinness said, countering a New York Post report that cited unnamed sources as saying Ulukaya could be stripped of his chairman role.

Chobani has been searching for a CEO since April and has identified several qualified candidates, including Burns, McGuinness said.

Ulukaya will choose the new “operationally based” CEO and remain involved in day-to-day business on the product side, McGuinness added.

(In an exclusive interview with Fortune’s Patricia Sellers Monday, Chobani founder Ulukaya said he has no immediate plans to give up his post as CEO and chairman.)

Private equity firm TPG in April invested $750 million in the New Berlin, New York-based company to save it from a cash crunch blamed on start-up problems at its Idaho manufacturing plant. Those pains were exacerbated by a 2013 product recall, record milk prices and competition from established yogurt brands such as Dannon, Yoplait and Fage.

A spokesman for TPG declined comment.

During the second half of 2013, Chobani reported negative EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) totaling $115 million as its net debt climbed, according to a presentation to TPG fund investors obtained by Reuters.

Burns, the partner in charge of TPG’s manufacturing/industry sector, is regarded as a manufacturing and turnaround expert. He has been Chobani’s interim president and COO since August.

Chobani is the No. 1 seller of Greek yogurt in the United States with 34 percent market share in that rapidly-expanding category, the company said, citing Nielsen data.

Since the investment from TPG, Chobani has reduced waste, improved customer service and introduced a variety of new products, including yogurt for babies and dessert lovers, McGuinness said.

Chobani had positive EBITDA from July through December 2014 and is making gains on store shelves, McGuinness said.