It's almost impossible to walk into a hospital, supermarket or public bathroom without encountering a GOJO product. Though Akron, Ohio-based GOJO Industries Inc. is best known for its Purell brand of hand sanitizer, its owners' mission goes far beyond keeping hands clean. Through a unique broad-based structure called the Kanfer Family Enterprise, the family that owns GOJO has reinvented the classic family business model to create an organization that allows every family member to work in his or her preferred setting, yet still be part of the family business.
GOJO was founded in 1946 by Jerome (Jerry) and Goldie Lippman. Like many American women, Goldie Lippman worked in a factory during World War II, making tires. Her hands were always filthy, and only harsh chemicals could clean them effectively.
Working with a science professor at nearby Kent State University, Jerry Lippman developed an effective but gentle industrial hand cleaner. Under the name GoJer, Jerry made the product in his garage at night and sold it from the trunk of his car by day; Goldie managed the books. Soon they changed the name to GOJO and more innovations followed, including the first portion-control dispenser, which Jerry patented in 1952.
GOJO's customer base expanded to food service and health care, as well as industrial and automotive. The invention of Purell in 1988 was a turning point for the company, although it would be another nine years before Purell hit the consumer market and became a household name. The company today makes a variety of soaps, lotions, wipes and disinfectants for both skin and surfaces.
Having no children of their own, Jerry and Goldie Lippman doted on their nephew, Joseph (Joe) Kanfer, the only son of Goldie's sister, Marcella, and her husband, Paul Kanfer. Though Jerry had some distant cousins who worked off and on at GOJO, there was always a sense that GOJO would someday pass to Joe. But Jerry Lippman never pressured his nephew.
"I think I always felt that it was open to me, but it was unstated," Joe says. "It didn't really crystallize till I had to make a decision. I had finished college and I was going to go off to Wall Street, but my mother was dying and I didn't want to leave town, so I started working with Jerry. He said, 'If you want to do this, OK; otherwise, I'm going to sell the business.' I said, 'OK I'm in.' " Joe, now 69, became president of GOJO in 1973 at age 26, and Jerry moved into the role of mentor and philanthropist.
GOJO is the engine of the Kanfer Family Enterprise (KFE), but only Joe and his daughter Marcella Kanfer Rolnick, 44, work at GOJO. Joe is chairman, and Marcella is vice chair. All the other family members—Joe's wife, Pamela; Marcella's husband, Joshua Rolnick; siblings Mamie Kanfer Stewart (34), Ketti Kanfer Zigdon (33) and Jaron Kanfer (30), and their respective spouses—work in the wide range of industries and philanthropies that KFE supports. Their individual ventures include such diverse industries as metal plating and men's apparel, and their philanthropic work covers areas like education and climate change. KFE's organizational structure is highly complex, but its mission is simple: to make the world a better place. Everything in the enterprise, whether for- profit or non-profit, must allow the Kanfers to create meaning and value together as a family.
Marcella—named for Joe's late mother—came up with the idea. "In 2006, I conceived of the notion of an expanded family enterprise when it became apparent that my siblings who were coming of age as adults were unlikely to choose careers within GOJO, but they showed interest in entrepreneurism and/or working with family," she explains.
Joe was thrilled with her plan, which assuaged any disappointment over not bringing the rest of his children into GOJO. All the kids had had summer jobs at GOJO growing up, but only Marcella returned after college.
As Jerry did with him, Joe told his children GOJO was available to them, but he didn't pressure them. "What you do with new facts is create a new situation, and that's how we created KFE," Joe says. Because they do so much as a family outside of GOJO, he says, "It's not like they're disconnected from family work."
KFE has three domains: for-profit ventures, non-profit ventures and philanthropy, and family bonding and infrastructure. Every family member and spouse is involved in some way. The fourth-generation children (ages 1 to 11) are introduced to the family enterprise through age-appropriate games and projects at family retreats held every summer. Marcella Kanfer Rolnick and Joshua Rolnick have four children, Mamie and Justin Stewart have two, and Ketti and Don Zigdon have six—four of whom are quadruplets.
"We created a themed fund in two- to three-year learning cycles on topics we 10 adults choose together to study and determine how we want to make a difference," says Marcella. "Our first cycle was on hunger and poverty. Our current cycle is on global climate change. So, for instance, last summer we visited a family shelter that was home to children their age, and this summer we built solar ovens. We will soon contemplate how to structure opportunities for Gen 4 to opt in to collective family philanthropy."
GOJO: The mother ship
GOJO serves as KFE's financial engine and anchor, as well as a lab of sorts for business practices that could translate to other KFE ventures. GOJO has more than 2,000 employees around the world. Most are in northeast Ohio, where the company has factories in Cuyahoga Falls and Wooster. In 2014, it added three manufacturing facilities in France with the acquisition of Laboratoires Prodene Klint.
In her school days, Marcella worked at GOJO in dispenser assembly, market research, microbiology, quality assurance and library development. After college she participated in the creation of the instant hand sanitizer category in professional markets and in the consumer launch of Purell, worked on the education market development team, and created and led the original Internet development/e-business team. She and Joe today have strategic roles.
Mark Lerner, GOJO's non-family president, is "like a brother to me," Joe says. Lerner has worked with the family for 30 years. "I have found the biggest advantage is a highly collaborative, dialogue-rich, team-based approach to leadership," Lerner says. "This has resulted in better decisions and a great deal of personal growth and fulfillment. The biggest challenges have been maintaining high organizational agility and flexibility to both keep up with the entrepreneurial drive of Joe and Marcella and simultaneously execute current strategies and plans."
Carey Jaros, GOJO's chief strategy officer, also serves as secretary to the board of directors. She moved into the CSO position in May 2016 after 18 months as president of Walnut Ridge Strategic Management Company, which Joe and Marcella founded in 2011 as a family office and management services firm to support the wide-ranging activities of the Kanfer family.
"As a director on the GOJO board, I learned the business top-down from 50,000 feet," Jaros says. "I also had many opportunities to talk to Joe and Marcella one-on-one about the business, to hear the 'kitchen table' stories about Jerry and Goldie, about some of the great successes and biggest lessons learned." Jaros says her understanding of how GOJO fits into the broader context of KFE brings important perspective to her role at the company.
"I always feel like I have a voice at the table, and the expectation is that I will speak up if I have an idea or a concern," Jaros says.
"I suppose we face the typical challenges of family companies with respect to generational transitions, but I feel like we are doing all of the work we need to do," Jaros says, "including having an intentionally built, multigenerational family and non-family leadership team, to ensure GOJO continues to deliver outstanding value to all of our stakeholders for many, many years to come."
Michael Moran, Walnut Ridge's managing partner, says the family office is "committed to pursuing not only the family's financial goals, but also their human and culture goals."
Mental models provide a framework to guide company stakeholders. The GOJO Alignment Model incorporates the company's Purpose, Vision, Values, Critical Success Factors, Strategy, Process, Structure and Competencies. The GOJO Alignment Model, found in every conference room and accessible via the company intranet, is constantly reinforced, says Lerner. "At every one of our quarterly stakeholders' meetings, we discuss our GOJO Purpose and provide a story from customers about the lives we touch," Lerner says. The GOJO Purpose—"Saving lives and making life better through well-being solutions"—is the "north star," Lerner says.
Company leaders must "walk the talk," Lerner says. "In many meetings, we bring the GOJO Purpose, Vision and Values into the conversation to help frame decision criteria," he says.
Family businesses beyond GOJO
Though Marcella's siblings opted not to join GOJO after college, KFE is an investor in each of their respective ventures. But they also must invest their personal capital along with the KFE funding, says Marcella—and their chosen venture can't run counter to KFE's core values, Joe notes.
One KFE investment venture is Meeteor, a tech startup run by Mamie Kanfer Stewart. Inspired by GOJO's practices, Meeteor helps companies spend less time in unproductive meetings. Mamie's husband, R. Justin Stewart, manages family real estate properties: residences in Chatauqua and Brooklyn, N.Y., as well as a small office in Brooklyn. In addition, he founded and runs Blue Cube Properties, which does small-scale, multifamily, green real estate development in Brooklyn. The family enterprise also has co-invested in Blue Cube.
"I appreciate how KFE includes more than just business," says Mamie Stewart. "The three domains [business, philanthropy and family infrastructure] allow each person in the family to connect in ways that are meaningful to him or her. Personally, during the past 10 or so years, I've managed one of our foundations, co-led family culture building, and then started my own business. I've moved fluidly through the KFE framework, which has allowed me to explore and find what works best for me.
"It also allows us to build relationships with each other that are based on different types of engagement. We can talk about business, philanthropy, values, legacy and more, which enables us to learn about each other, inspire one another, and bring our full selves to the table."
Ketti Zigdon (née Kanfer) is a stay-at-home mother. Her husband, Don, together with the Kanfer family and a friend, created an investment group called KBZ Partners in 2013, looking for companies poised for growth. KBZ invested in Lake City Plating, an Ohio-based metal finishing company whose plating technology enhances parts used in the automotive and electrical utility industries. In addition to being an investor in the company, Don Zigdon is its controller. Ketti, meanwhile, serves as secretary of the Lippman-Kanfer Family Foundation, one of KFE's philanthropic arms.
The youngest sibling, Jaron Kanfer, and his wife, Sara, run a men's apparel company called UNKNWN. The family co-invested with NBA basketball legend and Akron native LeBron James to create a new fashion brand. Based in Florida and with a strong online presence, UNKNWN offers sneakers, modern streetwear and designer apparel.
With family members living in Ohio, New York and Florida, technology plays a critical role in running KFE. Though the family frequently gathers in person for meetings and retreats, day-to-day interaction occurs via telecommunication.
Joe Kanfer, meanwhile, is a venture investor in (non-KFE) biotech startups in both the United States and Israel. Pamela Kanfer, a teacher, is involved with KFE's education-based philanthropies. She also serves, in Marcella's words, as "a thoughtful and astute sounding board for my father as he contemplates business strategy. Pam played a key role in convincing my father to launch Purell in the retail market for consumers."
Marcella's husband, Joshua, a journalist and blogger, has been engaged in Democratic politics for many years.
"We are evolving our approach across KFE to improve our effectiveness as we grow, so we are investing time in planning our path and strategy that will set the table for what we want to accomplish in the future with multiple generations," Moran says.
Come on in!
KFE has no prerequisites for family members who want to join. But there's no free ride, either: KFE will be a co-investor—not the sole investor—in the siblings' and in-laws' various ventures.
"We believe in giving family members the opportunity to learn on the job as long as they have skin in the game," says Marcella. "In addition to their functional roles, we give them a seat at the governance table as well, helping them develop the ability to think about the business holistically."
Joe is a proponent of learning on the job. "My uncle allowed me to take an awful lot of responsibility at an early age, so I never had this kind of rigidity that you read about elsewhere, where you've got to go work elsewhere first to prove yourself or you have to start at the bottom and work your way up," Joe says. "My uncle's idea was more to put you in a little over your head, and you learn by trial and error.
"I made tons of mistakes," Joe acknowledges. "I was very aggressive in trying new things, and in retrospect some were not very good or successful. I think that's true of most entrepreneurs. If they knew how hard it would be or the risk levels, they wouldn't have done it, and you read more about the successes than the failures. I worked hard and stayed with it and, frankly, I got lucky. And my uncle, to his credit, would say it was a blessing in disguise when I screwed up. I'd ask why and he'd say, 'It could have been worse.' "
Philanthropy is the second of KFE's three domains. "Since 1966, when Goldie and Jerry founded Jerome Lippman Family Foundation, our family has been passionately committed to contributing to the betterment of the world and doing so collaboratively rather than individually," says Marcella. But in true KFE fashion, there's also a mechanism—through matching funds—that allows individual family members to contribute to causes they're individually passionate about.
"It's about getting people to follow their own passion, not roping them into my passion," says Joe.
The original Jerome Lippman Family Foundation focused primarily on Akron-based Jewish organizations, especially schools. In the 1990s, the foundation refined its mission with a special emphasis on lifelong Jewish education, helping people in communities at risk, and fostering high performance and innovation in Jewish non-profit organizations. In 2000, the foundation name was changed to the Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation (LKFF). Today, its purpose is to "repair and enrich the world through thriving communities."
After Jerry's death in 2005 at age 92 (Goldie died in 1972), the foundation sought to build on his legacy and incorporate the family's diverse philanthropic interests as the third generation became involved. In 2013, the family launched a sister foundation, the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah (LKFLT), which supports Jewish organizations devoted to human rights, social justice and Jewish life.
While the emphasis of both foundations is on Jewish life, compatible non-Jewish organizations also benefit from LKFF funding, such as the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and Neighbors Together, a social-service agency in Brooklyn.
All family members serve on the board of either one or both foundations. At LKFF, Joe Kanfer is the founding director. Pamela Kanfer, whose background is in education, is chair. Ketti Zigdon is secretary, and siblings Marcella, Mamie and Jaron are directors. The siblings' spouses also are directors. At LKFLT, Marcella, Mamie, Joseph, Pamela and Joshua are founding directors.
Apart from the KFE foundations, GOJO as a company gives to the Akron community.
Family bonding and infrastructure
KFE's third domain is family togetherness. The family holds multiple retreats and meetings for its businesses and foundations. There is an annual adult retreat to review the for-profit domain; the family's 10 adults get together to evaluate KFE's business and investment status, performance and plans, as well as other relevant topics such as estate planning. Both of the philanthropic foundations also have annual summer retreats, and there are board meetings and working sessions throughout the year in which only those family members who are involved with that particular segment participate.
"Our family does not see boundaries," Marcella says. Freedom from the constraints of a traditional hierarchy enables the family members to follow their individual passions and to create meaning and value together, Marcella and Joe say.
Hedda T. Schupak is an editor and analyst specializing in fine jewelry and luxury retailing.
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