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 after her father’s unexpected passing. Her parents, both refugees, founded the company over 30 years ago with the mission of bringing kefir, a 2000 year old Eastern European product, into the U.S. mainstream. Under Julie’s leadership, Lifeway’s revenues have grown from $12 million to more than $110 million today making the probiotic-rich kefir a household name and Lifeway a category leader around the world. Read More >
Additionally, a survivor herself, Julie has worked for more than three decades to end sexual assault and domestic violence. She began her activism and advocacy in high school, when she worked with the Chicagoland YWCA to create and teach the first teen dating violence curriculum. In college she became a certified rape crisis counselor with Chicago’s Rape Victim Advocates (now known as Resilience). She then began her career as an in-home family counselor working with abused children in the DCFS system before joining her family business.
Julie’s journey has taken her overseas to Uganda to work with survivors in a refugee camp; to Bangladesh to help mothers and teen girls; and to Colombia, where she was part of a delegation invited to help rape victims and survivors of war gain a seat at the negotiation table during the country’s peace process. 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 has produced several films focused on social justice, including the Emmy-winning The Hunting Ground, for which the Lady Gaga original song “Til It Happens to You” was nominated for an Oscar. Julie then shared the stage with 49 other survivors during the singer’s iconic performance at the 2016 ceremony. She was also a producer on Honor Diaries, Homestretch and most recently On The Record, a film that stands at the intersection of Black Live Matters and MeToo.
In 2013 Julie co‐founded a non-profit, Test400k, dedicated to ending the backlog of 400,000 untested rape kits in the United States and prompting nationwide rape kit reform laws across the country. Most recently, Julie participated in a nationwide PSA for RAINN raising awareness for the national sexual assault hotline for victims being forced to shelter with their abusers during lockdown.
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, VeryWell's Champion of Wellness and has appeared on national and international media outlets including the Drew Barrymore Show, BBC, MSNBC and others.
Julie is a member of YPO, Economic Club of Chicago, C200, Chicago Network, Fortune Most Powerful Women community, Summit community, on the board of the Anti-Defamation League and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, and 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; published by Harper Collins in 2018 and is currently writing her second book. She lives in Chicago and is the mother of two girls. Read Less ^