Julie Smolyansky became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held company when she took over her father’s kefir business at the age of 27 after his sudden death in 2002. Since being named CEO and president of Lifeway Foods (NASDAQ: LWAY) Julie has continued the company’s growth trajectory with innovative product development and marketing strategies, boosting annual revenues to over $130 million and expanding distribution throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
From humble beginnings, the Smolyansky family was one of only 48 families permitted to settle in Chicago from the Former Soviet Union in 1976; Julie was just one year old at the time. Entrepreneurs at the core, Julie’s mother Ludmila opened the first Russian delicatessen in Chicago’s Rogers Park in 1978, moving to eventually own five locations throughout greater Chicago. These delis gave the Smolyansky family entry into the food industry. 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. She began her career as an in-home family counselor for Care Works, an agency that supported Department of Children Family Services. She left the social service field to support her father at Lifeway Foods in 1997.
Julie serves on the board of directors for the Anti‐Defamation League, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (a division of Jewish United Fund), the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, the Rape VictimAdvocates, the University of Illinois Alumni Association, the International Probiotics Association, and is an advisory board member for Bia Sport. She is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago, the Young Presidents Organization, the Committee of 200, the Chicago Network, the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs, and is a member of International Women's Forum. Julie was invited to take part in Summit Series DC10 and has been named a Fortune Most Powerful Women community member.
Julie 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, the GE Leading and Learning Conference, Womenetics, the JUF Women’s Leadership Division and the Women’s Funding Network. She is frequently asked to participate in panel discussions for organizations on a variety of topics including healthy living, innovation, entrepreneurship, leveraging social media, and increasing women’s participation and leadership roles. Julie frequently travels to the White House and advocates for Violence Against Women issues.
Julie has been featured on multiple media outlets including ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, and Fortune. She was recently named to Fortune Business ‘40 under 40,’ Fortune’s 55 most influential women on Twitter and Fast Company’s Most Creative People In Business 1000. Julie serves as a member of the United Nations Foundation Global Entrepreneurs Council and is part of the 2015 class of Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum. She has produced several documentaries, including “The Homestretch,” “Honor Diaries" and “The Hunting Ground” and is the founder of the nonprofit Test400k. She lives in Chicago and is the mother of two girls.