Julie Smolyansky became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held firm when she took over her father's kefir business, in 2002 at the age of 27. Since being named CEO and director of Lifeway Foods (NASDAQ: LWAY) Julie has continued the company's growth trajectory with creative product development and marketing, bringing a Russian product into the U.S. mainstream and boosting annual company revenues to nearly $80 million by 2012. Julie has vivid memories of being an early "guinea pig" for the kefir business founded by her parents in 1986, whether sampling new flavors and formulations, or traveling to food shows to help her parents build Lifeway into the first U.S. company taken public by a Russian immigrant.
Julie is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago (B.A., 1996), where she majored in psychology and minored in women's studies. Julie serves on the board of directors for the Anti-Defamation League, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (a division of Jewish United Fund), Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Rape Victim Advocates, University of Illinois Alumni Association, and International Probiotics Association. She is also a member of the Economic Club of Chicago, Young Presidents Organization, The Committee of 200, The Chicago Network and is a Summit Series and Fortune Most Powerful Women community member.
She has presented research at the American Psychological Association's Annual Meeting (1996), and is a frequent speaker for various organizations including Nutracon's annual Anti-Aging Nutraceutical Conference, ChicWIT, the Nutrition Biz Journal Conference, the University of Illinois at Chicago Honors College, New Hope Natural Media, GE Leading and Learning Conference, Womenetics, JUF Women's Leadership Division and is frequently asked to participate in panel discussions for organizations on a variety of topics from innovation, entrepreneurship, leveraging social media, and increasing women's participation and leadership roles. Julie recently joined Christy Turlington Burns as a maternal health advocate traveling to Bangladesh with her and Every Mother Counts and participating in a series of screenings and panel discussions for the film No Woman No Cry.
Additionally, Julie frequently travels to the White House, including her 2011 visit to support young entrepreneurs with the nonprofit organization Our Time, and advocates for Violence Against Women in the Vice President's Office. Julie was featured in Crain's Chicago Business '40 under 40' in 2005, Today's Chicago Woman 'Rising Stars' and was a finalist for Ernst and Young's Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2010. Fast Company named her one of the "Riskiest in Business" in 2011 and New Hope Natural Media named her as one of the top ten natural food executives to follow on Twitter. Julie lives in Chicago and is the mother of two girls.