Joe Kanfer is the Chair and Venturer of GOJO Industries. Established in 1946, GOJO is a family-owned company that represents one of the very few businesses in the world to have seen an increase in sales during the Covid pandemic. The secret to its success? Purell, a hand sanitizer that Kanfer launched in 1988 to a mediocre reception but which has since gone on to become one of the top-selling products of the last decade. Find out more about the man behind Purell with these ten things you didn’t know about Joe Kanfer.
1. He’s the nephew of GOJO’s founder
GOJO Industries was founded in 1946 by the husband and wife team of Jerry and Goldie Lippman. Originally going under the name GoJer Laboratories, the company set out to find a safe alternative to the dangerous chemicals like kerosene and benzene that industrial workers were using to clean their hands of graphite and carbon. At first, the company was a tiny affair. As Business Insider writes, Jerry spent his nights mixing the hand cleaner in the basement and his days selling it from the trunk of his car. Goldie, meanwhile, managed the office. Although the couple didn’t have any children of their own, it was a family business right from the start. It was also where the couple’s young nephew, Joe Kanfer, got his introduction to the world of business.
2. He took over GOJO at the age of 24
Kanfer first started helping with the family business at the age of seven. His first job involved sitting on boxes of hand cleaner to keep them closed as the box glue dried. When Goldie died in 1972, Jerry decided that his young nephew was her natural successor as company president. Kanfer would eventually take over as the CEO and chairman. Under his stewardship, the company grew from a small business with an inconsequential turnover to an international powerhouse. Today, GOJO is an industry leader with a presence in millions of households across the world.
3. He transitioned roles in 2018
After several decades at the helm of GOJO, Kanfer stepped down from the role of CEO and chairman in 2018. However, he’s still active in the company via his new role of venture consultant and member of the board. Kanfer is now responsible for mentoring employees and advising on projects.
4. He’s got a pile of awards
Kanfer is a well-respected industry figure, having successfully grown a small family business into an international giant. In recognition of his achievements, he’s been honored with numerous awards and accolades. Some of his most notable accomplishments include an honorary doctorate from the University of Akron, the 2011 H. Peter Burg Award from the Greater Akron Chamber, and the 2015 Bert A. Polsky Humanitarian Award.
5. He’s committed to sustainability
Kanfer may be a businessman at heart, but he’s not prepared to sacrifice ethics for a profit. During his tenure as CEO, Kanfer turned GOJO into a leader of sustainability. Even now that’s he transitioned away from the role, he’s still active in pushing green issues to the top of GOJO’s agenda. As part of the company’s sustainability policy, he’s pledged to reduce its chemical footprint by half over the coming decade.
6. He studied at the University of Michigan Law School
He may have spent most of his childhood packing boxes of hand sanitizer at GOJO, but Kanfer didn’t neglect his studies. After graduating high school, he won a place at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania studying economics. He later went on to earn his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.
7. He put his faith in Purnell
As Inc.com notes, when GOJO first launched Purell in 1988, no one was interested. At the time, hand sanitizer was an unknown quantity. No one knew what it was and no one knew why they should buy it. But Kanfer had faith in the new product. So convinced was he of Purell’s merits, he made it 25% of his salespeople’s annual sales targets. Even so, it didn’t take off. Until, that is, public health standards underwent a fundamental shift around 15 years ago. Sales began to take off in a major way. Then along came the COVID pandemic. By March of 2020, Purell’s sales had skyrocketed. Stores couldn’t stock it fast enough. All across the world, bottles of Purell were flying off the shelves. 10 months later, they still are, proving once and for all that Kanfer knows a good thing when he sees it.
8. His kids are following in his footsteps
GOJO started as a family business and over half a century later, it still is. In 2005, one of Kanfer’s four children, Marcella Kanfer Rolnick, took over as vice-chair after serving with the company since she was a teenager. In 2018, she took over Kanfer’s role as executive chair when he transitioned away from the position. In a statement issued at the time via Clean Link, Kanfer spoke of his pride at handing the reigns to his daughter. “Today marks a significant moment for the Kanfer family,” he said. “I could not be more proud and excited to enter the next stage of our family’s leadership.”
9. GOJO isn’t his only success
In addition to his activities with GOJO, Kanfer has found enough time to get involved with various other business ventures. As well as serving as the chairman of Startvest Partners, a New York City-based growth equity firm that invests in biotech startups in Israel, he also chairs the venture investment firm Everett Partners along with several medical device companies.
10. He’s a committed philanthropist
As akroncf.org writes, Kanfer has long been recognized for his involvement in social justice issues such as education, health care, poverty, and hunger. The majority of his philanthropic work is organized in collaboration with his wife and children via the family’s foundation, Lippman Kanfer Family Philanthropies. In addition to his work with the foundation, he’s also personally involved in numerous organizations throughout the Greater Akron area, including Akron Tomorrow, Greater Akron Chamber Executive Committee, and Bits and Atoms Innovation Center incubator. He’s also noted for his contributions to the Jewish community. He currently serves as a trustee of the Jewish Community Board of Akron and is a former trustee of the Shaw Jewish Community Center and the Akron Roundtable.