How Do Some Young Professionals Get Ahead So Quickly?

Article Source: Red Eye Chicago, A Chicago Tribune publication,, By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

They’re young, powerful and successful-you may be surprised how they reached the top of the career ladder so fast.

Julie Smolyansky was 27 when she became a CEO. Her father died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving her to run the publicly traded yogurt company he’d founded 16 years before. ”The outside world didn’t believe I could handle it,” Smolyansky, now 34, recalls. “But failure was not an option.”

For the next three years, Smolyansky said, she slept an average of three hours per night as she worked to save Morton Grove-based Lifeway Foods. It paid off.

Last year, the company’s revenues were more than triple what they were when she took over, having risen from $12.2 million in 2002 to $44.5 million.

Smolyansky, who lives in Lincoln Park, credits her success to her instinctive knack for marketing, a dedicated staff, some strategic product initiatives–and most of all, a genuine belief in the product.

“You have to live it, love it,” she said.

Every now and then, you come across a young person who seems to have sprinted up the career ladder. A 27-year-old CEO. A 26-year-old high school principal. A 28-year-old congressman.

For the masses toiling at more modest posts, such a swift upward trajectory is met with a mix of awe and envy. How did he or she get there so quickly? What is it about this person’s talent, work ethic, connections or luck that propelled him or her to such prestigious heights so early?

And what am I doing wrong?
While there’s no magic formula, young Chicagoans in high places say good mentors, positive attitude, willingness to work every waking hour and humility are among the secrets to their success.

That’s not exactly groundbreaking insight, but it bears repeating as job dissatisfaction rates sit at 35 percent, according to a survey published this year by, with Millennials reporting the most job dissatisfaction (65 percent).

Jeremy Ulmer, a Chicago coach, said he gets a range of clients, from recent college graduates to CEOs, who are seeking support or looking for a sounding board in order to be more effective, attain higher leadership roles or get a lift out of the quicksand of their stagnant careers.

Sometimes, he said, it’s hard for clients to answer the most important question of all: What is it that you really want?

“If you can find what you love to do, it doesn’t even feel like work,” said Ulmer, 32. “When you’re that passionate about it, the likelihood of success is 10 times greater.”

Talking to young Chicagoans with impressive career paths, passion is the common ingredient.

“It’s about love,” said Eboo Patel, 33, who recently was appointed to the Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Patel founded the Interfaith Youth Core when he was 22 and continues to spend “every spare moment” working on the nonprofit, which brings together young people of different faiths for community service projects to highlight the goodness of religion.

Patel ran the organization with no budget for four years, working as a professor to make a living, before he got his first grants for the Youth Core, totaling $100,000. This year, he said, his budget is $4 million.

Of course, love isn’t all you need. In Patel’s case, a prestigious Rhodes scholarship and substantive knowledge of religion and foreign affairs helped win him supporters and funding because they allowed him to smartly and seriously convey his vision. Mentors also are key.

Read the rest of the article here.

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