Every year, many Boston College seniors grapple with the daunting task of finding a fulfilling job after graduation. Scrambling to figure out their next steps, undergoing the pressures of job searches, and struggling to map out their futures are nearly universal experiences, no matter how well prepared an individual is. Grace Zuncic, BC ’05 and current chief people officer of Chobani, experienced a similar uncertainty as her time at BC was drawing to a close. Zuncic found her first career attempts as a consultant and investment adviser to be unfulfilling, so one day, when she glanced at a Chobani yogurt container, she took a leap of faith.
Zuncic grew up in the rural town of Skaneateles, N.Y., surrounded by family members with Puerto Rican, Ukrainian, Irish, and English backgrounds. She was also influenced by her mother, who worked full-time in the ’80s, Zuncic said.
“She set a beautiful example for me in terms of what women can do professionally,” Zuncic said.
Growing up, Zuncic volunteered for Catholic charities in inner-city Syracuse, N.Y., where she gained experience serving underprivileged youth. Although at that point she was unsure of what career she wanted to pursue, she felt drawn toward jobs that serve the greater good.
Zuncic’s upbringing would later help her interact with a diverse workplace and create leadership positions for members of underrepresented groups.
When Zuncic was searching for universities to attend, she knew that she wanted a strong liberal arts education. After she narrowed her options to Colgate and BC, her final decision came down to a coin flip, she said. With BC as heads, her decision was made.
“I think it was meant to be, me being in a metropolitan area like BC,” Zuncic said. “BC really shaped a lot of my thinking about the world and my beliefs and the things that I care about.”
During her freshman year, Zuncic was a member of the Shaw Leadership Program, which she credits for connecting her with peers of various backgrounds, as it prioritizes diversity in all of its forms.
“Some of my earliest friendships that I made at BC were people that didn’t look like me and didn’t think like me and didn’t grow up how I grew up,” Zuncic said. “Some of those friends continue to be my best friends today.”
Her senior year, Zuncic became president of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College alongside Vice President Burnell Holland III, BC ’05.
These leadership positions prepared her to think critically and to make ethical judgment calls—skills that are applicable to every career field, she said.
“There are tons of judgment calls every day, and I feel equipped to handle those moments as crucible moments because of the experiences I had at BC,” Zuncic said.
Zuncic also credits BC’s Jesuit education for teaching her how to be a woman for and with others.
“What I learned from the Jesuits, and what I learned in particular from Father Neenan, who was very involved in my experience with BC, is that there’s a lot of good to do in the present moment,” Zuncic said.
Although she felt prepared to be a force of good after her experience at BC, she did not have a job lined up when she graduated. When a friend recommended that she look into consulting, Zuncic took a government practice job at PRTM, a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. In 2008, Zuncic returned to Boston and earned her M.B.A. at the Harvard Business School.
After graduating from Harvard in 2010, Zuncic took a job as an investment adviser at Goldman Sachs. The job itself was not fulfilling enough for her, she said, so she turned to volunteering opportunities to find what she felt her life was lacking.
Aside from her volunteering, Zuncic found herself employing the values she learned at BC after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, after which Pat Downes, BC ’05, and his wife, Jessica Kensky, had to be amputated. Alongside other BC alumni, Zuncic helped organize the BC Strong Scholarship, which supports students with disabilities who wish to attend BC. In the wake of the tragedy, the BC community showed its resilience and collective strength, Zuncic said.
In addition to the BC Strong Scholarship, Zuncic also said she is proud of what her fellow alumni have accomplished since their graduation.
“I look at what my class is doing today, and I’m so proud of everyone and their accomplishments,” Zuncic said. “I see the beautiful lives that they’re living, the professions that they’ve taken on, the good that they’re doing in the world, the families and the beautiful partnerships that they have, and it’s just awesome.”
Eventually, Zuncic realized that she needed her job to better align with her passions, she said.
“I felt that I had to find other places in my life for what I was yearning for, not realizing that, no, I really had to find it professionally to be fully satisfied,” Zuncic said.
Eventually, her days of cold calling companies while she worked at Goldman Sachs led her to what she had been searching for. Zuncic recalls that she ate a Chobani yogurt every day at work, and one day, on a whim, she decided to call the number on the container. She spoke to a customer loyalty team representative at first, but she was then redirected to Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani.
“When I met Hamdi, I knew that I was going to be a part of his team someday,” Zuncic said. “I didn’t know when, and I didn’t know who would ask first, but it felt so right for me because I knew that the company was on a mission to do as much good as it could do in the world.”
Over the past eight years at Chobani, Zuncic has helped launch and maintain numerous programs geared toward aiding employees and community members. One program, Chobani Gives, allows Chobani employees to get paid for up to eight hours of community service. This year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, employees could use their service time to get tested for COVID-19 or to get out the vote. Zuncic also helped raise the minimum wage for Chobani employees to $15 an hour.
In 2015, Zuncic worked to launch Chobani Women, which is geared toward increasing leadership roles for women at Chobani. Since 2019, Chobani Women has created an even ratio of male to female executives at Chobani.
Zuncic credits the progress of all of Chobani’s programs to the workers.
“We accomplish what we accomplished because of the incredible employees that work for our organization and the outstanding leaders that we have across the organization who work very collaboratively in everything that we do,” she said.
The emphasis on working for the greater good and fostering diversity that Zuncic cultivated in her early life and at BC equipped her to ensure that diversity and inclusion exist at Chobani, she said.
For Peter McGuinness, president and chief operating officer at Chobani, who has worked with Zuncic for seven years, Zuncic’s readiness to take on challenges is easily noticeable, he said.
“I’ve asked her to head up diversity and inclusion for the company and she jumped into that headfirst and showed a ton of passion and compassion,” McGuinness said. “She has wisdom beyond her years.”
Looking to the future of Chobani’s People and Culture team, Zuncic said that she anticipates a greater integration of technology in the team’s practices and a continued focus on Chobani’s frontline workers, such as those who make the products. Zuncic says one of the best parts of her job is finding creative ways to reward and encourage Chobani’s hourly workers, who make up 70 percent of Chobani’s workforce. At Chobani’s manufacturing facility in Twin Falls, Idaho, Zuncic helped create a state of the art building where hourly workers have everyday access to Peloton bikes, a weight room, and a subsidized cafeteria.
“It’s projects like that that get me very excited,” Zuncic said.
Kathy Leo, chief legal officer and general counsel at Chobani, said that while working with Zuncic for the past four years, she has seen Zuncic’s compassion for others come to the forefront of her career.
“We have worked together literally from day one,” Leo said. “She has the biggest heart ever and is just a very empathetic and thoughtful person. And that, I think, runs through her professionally and personally and just makes Grace who she is, and she’s fun.”
Reminiscing on feeling unfulfilled by her previous careers, Zuncic said she is content with her choice to join Chobani’s team.
“I am so glad I followed my gut years ago, thinking that it was a place where I belonged and where I could contribute the most good.”
Zuncic advises the next generations of BC graduates to seek fulfillment and show generosity to others, whatever their future career may look like.
“Asking yourself how you can be a force for good wherever you land, I think, is important because the world needs more BC grads out in the world doing good. And have some fun,” Zuncic said.
Photo Courtesy of Grace Zuncic