Julie Smolyansky became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held firm at the age of 27
when she took over leadership of Lifeway Foods in 2002. The company was founded by her
refugee parents over 30 years ago with the mission of bringing Kefir, an Eastern European
product, into the U.S. mainstream. Under her leadership, the company has boosted
revenues to over $100 million today from $12 million when she took over.
For almost 30 years, Julie has actively worked to end domestic violence and sexual assault,
creating and teaching the first teen dating violence curriculum in the Chicagoland with
YWCA while in High School. She began her career as an in-home family counselor working
with families in the DCFS system before leaving the professional field of psychology to join
her family business. She is a certified rape crisis counselor and formerly on the board of
Resilience, previously known as the Rape Victim Advocates here in Chicago. Her journey
has taken her overseas to Uganda to work with survivors in a refugee camp, with mothers
and teen girls in Bangladesh, and not long ago, she was part of a delegation invited to help
rape victims and survivors of war gain a seat at the negotiation table during the Colombian
Julie has produced several films focused on social justice, including the Emmy-winning,
Oscar-nominated documentary “The Hunting Ground.” Along with her production work on
“The Hunting Ground,” she also shared the stage with 49 other survivors at the 2016
Oscars during Lady Gaga’s iconic performance of “Til It Happens to You,” which was written
for the film. In 2013 Julie co‐founded a non‐profit, Test400k, an organization dedicated to
ending the backlog of 400,000 untested rape kits in the United States. She also worked with
the Obama White House on the “It’s On Us” initiative, an awareness campaign to help end
sexual assault on college campuses. Julie was named to Fortune Business ‘40 under 40,’
Fortune’s 55 Most Influential Women on Twitter, Fortune Business ‘Best Instagrammers of
the 40 Under 40’ and Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 1000.
Julie serves as an emeritus member of the United Nations Foundation Global Entrepreneurs
Council and was part of the 2015 class of Young Global Leaders of the World Economic
Forum. She recently released her first book, The Kefir Cookbook: An Ancient Healing
Superfood for Modern Life, Recipes from My Family Table and Around the World in March
of 2018. She lives in Chicago and is the mother of two girls.
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