CEO Leadership Tips for Young Professionals

  1. Julie Smolyansky was the youngest ever female CEO of a publicly held firm when she assumed leadership of Lifeway Foods (NASDAQ: LWAY) in 2002. On November 16, she joined the Young Professionals of Chicago for a breakfast conversation about leadership, overcoming challenges and achieving success as a young professional.
  2. Not one to hide behind podiums, Smolyansky immediately endeared herself to the audience by making herself accessible (sorry for the poor photo quality).
  3. CEO of @lifeway_kefir, Julie Smolyansky #YPCceo http://lockerz.com/s/156663287
    November 16, 2011 8:36:09 AM EST
  4. Smolyansky was thrust into CEO position when her dad died suddenly. Stock crashed next day. “It totally pissed me off.” #YPCceo
    November 16, 2011 8:50:23 AM EST
  5. Smolyansky’s father was the founder and CEO of Lifeway.  After his sudden heart attack, she was asked to fill his very big shoes. She had to simultaneously grieve AND lead — a responsibility made difficult by the fact that few people seemed to think she was capable of sustaining the company’s growth. Her anger may have provided the initial fuel, but Lifeway’s subsequent success can be attributed to rational leadership.
  6. Smolyansky on thinking outside the box: “the rules aren’t what you assume they are.” #YPCceo
    November 16, 2011 8:42:16 AM EST
  7. Smolyansky: “your skill set is your skill set, but your passion & tenacity can take you anywhere.” #YPCceo
    November 16, 2011 8:50:31 AM EST
  8. These two leadership quotes sum up Smolyanksy’s leadership style; she feels very strongly that her passion and daring made up for any shortcomings in her leadership resume.
  9. On company’s natural foods vision: “how you treat your body is how the world treats you.” #YPCceo
    November 16, 2011 8:52:03 AM EST
  10. Smolyansky: “The core of what we’re doing is healing the world through food.” #YPCceo
    November 16, 2011 8:54:14 AM EST
  11. “It’s good business to find ways to help society.” Nice that @juliesmolyansky knows giving back is about more than tax write-offs #YPCceo
    November 16, 2011 9:10:29 AM EST
  12. “The next generation of people & companies bears the responsibility to actively make the world better.” @juliesmolyansky #YPCceo
    November 16, 2011 9:01:57 AM EST
  13. Smolyansky frequently peppered her advice with words like “karma” and “doing the right thing.” She expressed her obligations not only to stockholders and consumers, but to spread the gospel about healthy, sustainable and local foods. More on Lifeway’s corporate social responsibility
  14. Smolyansky: “It’s up to every [young] professional to find their passion and make it their career.” #YPCceo
    November 16, 2011 8:55:15 AM EST
  15. “There’s a leadership gap in the modern business world. Young professionals need to step up to the challenge.” – @JulieSmolyansky #YPCceo
    November 16, 2011 8:59:54 AM EST
  16. Perhaps she was just telling the room full of 20- and 30-somethings what they wanted to hear, but Smolyansky urged her audience to step up to leadership, rather than wait for the opportunity to be handed to them.
  17. “If you’re comfortable, you’re not growing. We’ve never been comfortable.” @juliesmolyansky #YPCceo
    November 16, 2011 9:15:23 AM EST
  18. A great leadership mantra. Smolyansky implored her audience to do what she asks her employees to do — experiment outside their comfort zones to achieve maximum success.
  19. “The future of corporate social responsibility isn’t cash donations…it’s building business models around doing good.” – Smolyansky #YPCceo
    November 16, 2011 9:24:06 AM EST
  20. When asked about Lifeway’s philanthropy, Smolyansky said she thinks the future isn’t in a conventional grants model. She is fascinated by micro finance and seems focused on social entrepreneurship more than old-school charity.
  21. *****

After the event, Smolyansky and I exchanged emails and I asked her for a few closing words for young professionals (since my live Tweets ended abruptly). She was kind enough to humor my request, so I’ll let her words serve as a conclusion:

If you have any doubt about your abilities to lead, to contribute…let them wash over you now and get on with it. We don’t have time. The time is now. We need you to step up, challenge yourself, innovate, be who you were meant to be. Join a movement you believe in or create your own. Just do it. The world is rooting for you.
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Pretty inspiring stuff, no?
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