Monday, August 24, 2015

This Family Business Begun in a Basement Has Gone Big Time

Julie Smolyansky, president, CEO and director of Lifeway Foods Inc, is the next-generation leadership of a family business whose co-founders, Michael and Ludmila Smolyansky, immigrated from Russia. Her mother is the chairman, and her brother, Ed Smolyansky, is the CFO and treasurer. Lifeway is the first company to go public by Russian immigrants. The foundation of her family business was bringing kefir, a traditional cultured milk product common in Russia and Eastern Europe, to market in the U.S. The business that was begun in 1986 in a basement in Skokie, Ill., recently acquired a 200,000 square-feet dairy. Because I am also from another country, Liberia, I've been thinking about entrepreneurship and family business as a tool for empowering refugees and immigrants. Julie's story is an example of how a family business is an option, no matter where you're from.

Starting with nothing.

Julie's mother, Ludmila, was "the brain" behind starting and growing the family business. At age 26, she arrived in the United States, not speaking a word of English. She opened up a delicatessen at the peak of the women's movement. She opened five more and became an importer of European foods. She discovered Nutella in Italy, saved all her money, and imported it when it was unknown. Julie says this about her mother, "She has a knack for trends and things that are high quality." Ludmila's deli grew into a $150 million dollar family business that her daughter and son are leading today.
Read more about how this family business began in a basement

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