AWIU member Julie Pantiskas is the daughter of an AWIU founding member, Margaret “Peg” Power, and mother of 27-year-old Megan, who joined AWIU this July. It’s the first three-generation membership in AWIU history. That’s not surprising, as Pantiskas gravitates to firsts of all kinds, especially those involving a combination of women, business, and mentoring.
At a June evening event for AWIU’s L.A. Chapter, Julie was the link to the evening’s speaker, Lauren Yen, her protegee from the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering. Julie has consulted with the school for the past five years, working with students and professors at USC Viterbi’s Startup Garage, a unique incubator for early-stage technology startups.
“Lauren is one of my mentees at the Startup Garage,” explains Julie, who mentors students and professors at the Marina Del Rey campus six hours a week. “She is the innovator behind Frontida Records, a non-profit that is building electronic health documentation solutions for refugees and other vulnerable populations around the world.” They have on board 20,000 refugees to date!
The L.A. and Chicago Chapters of AWIU are pursuing a slate of projects that assist local refugees, with the goal of spreading this focus to other AWIU Chapters around the country. Sure enough, Lauren’s medical records project, which has been implemented in several countries already, gave a big shot of inspiration to potential mentors (and the companies they’re associated with) wanting to get involved.
Julie has a lot to offer on the mentoring field – 30 years of operational management, business strategy, sales and marketing, and manufacturing and distribution experience. She’s held leadership roles at Summit Funding, Inc., the Walt Disney Company, Belkin International, Oberthur Technology, and Deloitte Consulting. Earlier in her career, she was president of her third-generation family business, the Nut Tree Restaurant in Northern California.
At her core, Julie’s an entrepreneur. In 2017, she joined Salt Creek Capital, where in partnership they formed The Flavor of California, LLC, as part of the acquisition of Bob’s Big Boy Salad Dressing and Sauces. “It’s been an education in the food processing and services business,” she says. “I wanted my own company, and I wanted to develop it far beyond where it was when I took it over.” And she’s doing it, with countless hours on the road and in airports, expanding into the Northwest, touring factories, retooling manufacturing processes and even challenging the second-largest global cheese manufacturer to improve their quality, which they have accomplished. Blue cheese is a critical ingredient in the iconic salad dressing, which has resulted in Bob’s Bleu Cheese being California’s #1 refrigerated salad dressing for over 60 years!
Cheese and the economics of food processing are a priority, but this is a woman who loves a challenge – and that’s when the mentoring opportunity appeared. “I met a Viterbi professor, and she asked if I would speak to her Entrepreneurs class about my business,” Julie reports. Over time, Dr. Andrea Belz involved Julie more and more in reviewing class curricula and materials. When she was promoted to vice dean of the school, Dr. Belz launched the Garage Startup, with Julie becoming a mentor to people dreaming about harnessing technologies and starting businesses to do so.
“My work at the Garage is incredibly stimulating,” says Julie. “I work with people of all ages, teaching them the business basics they need to start a company, and then helping them to refine and apply those practices to their entrepreneurial models. For instance, the CEOs set their company goals every quarter – these are the kinds of things I work on with them.”
“Lauren’s Frontida Records is unique because it’s a non-profit – that’s the first non-profit project accepted by the Garage,” explains Julie. “There’s a CEO here, a professor, who wanted to build hydrogen airplanes. Now the country of Malta – their government – is working with her. Then there’s another female entrepreneur who’s come up with a plan to rent out space in under-utilized warehouses – the Airbnb of logistics. You never know what’s around the corner here!”
Even though Julie attended numerous AWIU events with her mother over the years, Julie officially became an AWIU member in the process of becoming a salad dressing CEO and consulting with USC. “One of the first things I did was attend AWIU’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in Chicago,” she said. “I sat next to Lian Dolan – you can imagine what a good time I had!” Forever bent on improvement, Julie worked for the next few years as AWIU’s treasurer to update AWIU financial and business controls (“signature cards!”), and create a strategic plan with Ellen Hurwitz, and Joann Ma, among others to plan AWIU’s future.
A member of the board of directors since 2018, Julie brought both Lauren Yen and her daughter Megan to the 2023 International Women of Courage Celebration. “It’s so important that we provide inspiring role models for young women,” says this natural role model. “When we extend modeling to mentoring, that’s when young business stars really start to show what they can do. I love my business, and I love AWIU, but there’s nothing like mentoring to make you feel alive, truly needed in this world, and ready to take on anything. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”