The family leadership at Akron-based GOJO Industries is passing the mantle to the third generation and first female solo top leader.

On Wednesday, Marcella Kanfer Rolnick, a third-generation member of the Lippman-Kanfer family, became executive chair of the 72-year-old family business, maker and inventor of Purell. She has been vice chair since 2007 and has co-led the business with her father, Joe Kanfer and the GOJO leadership team.

In her new role, the 46-year-old Akron-area native and Revere High School graduate will focus on ensuring “that the conditions are in place for continued sustainable competitive advantage,” the company said in a prepared statement.

Joe Kanfer, 71, will move from CEO and board chair to the role of chair and venturer. In that role, “he will mentor, coach and help shape GOJO strategy in partnership with Kanfer Rolnick and other GOJO leaders,” the company said.

Mark Lerner, who has been with the company for 32 years, will remain president and chief operating officer in charge of the company’s day-to-day operations. There will be no CEO.

GOJO employs more than 2,500 employees worldwide, with more than 1,600 employees in Northeast Ohio.

Kanfer took over GOJO when he was 24 in the mid-1970s from his mentor and confidant, his late uncle Jerry Lippman.

Lippman started the company with his wife, Goldie, in 1946 after they invented a product to clean rubber factory workers’ hands.

In a phone interview, Kanfer Rolnick said she was “very honored, humbled and excited to take this mantle of responsibility.”

Joe Kanfer called the leadership change a “significant moment in GOJO history and for the Kanfer family.”

“I could not be more proud and excited to enter the next stage of our family’s leadership,” he said. “Just as I was a confidant and partner to my uncle Jerry Lippman, Marcella has been my confidant and partner for nearly her whole life. When she was a child, we talked business every evening around our family dinner table, and our partnership continued through daily phone calls when she was a student at Princeton University and later while earning an MBA at Stanford University. Over the last 10 years — in her expanded role as GOJO vice chair — Marcella has been my colleague and critical shaper of our strategic direction.”

Female leadership

Both Kanfer and Kanfer Rolnick said they believe GOJO has been gender blind for years and has emphasized employees’ abilities. “We’ve had female plant managers ... including an LGBT woman who was our plant manager in the middle 1950s and not many can say that,” Kanfer said.

Still, Kanfer, who has touted the importance of Akron’s top leaders being diverse in gender and race, said having his daughter take over makes him proud.

“To have the next generation of family leadership be in the family and be a woman is absolutely great,” he said.

Kanfer Rolnick said “it’s exciting to be a female leader in our industry and it’s great to be a role model for other working moms.”

The mother of four said her 11-year-old son already has asked about the next generation of leadership. Her 13-year-old son regularly attends board and customer dinners.

Kanfer Rolnick is the eldest of Joe Kanfer’s four children. Her sister, Mamie Kanfer Stewart, along with running a consultancy business, regularly attends board meetings as a board observer. Other family members are involved in the Kanfer Family Enterprise and its businesses and philanthropies, of which GOJO is the largest piece.

Mayor’s reaction

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan called Kanfer “a model CEO” and said the move “will enable Joe to continue to devote his significant talents to the causes and opportunities that are most meaningful to him and most impactful to the public.”

Horrigan also said: “I’m confident that Marcella has the skills, experience and vision to lead GOJO into its next chapter. She shares the values and vision of the family business to not only create products that serve the needs of the public, but to invest in GOJO’s workforce and brand in ways that strengthen and grow the organization. I look forward to working closely with Marcella as she assumes this new role and am thrilled that GOJO will be joining the ranks of other esteemed female-led organizations in Akron.”

GAR Foundation President Christine Mayer, who was in Kanfer Rolnick’s Leadership Akron class 10 years ago, said she was thrilled to hear the news.

“Marcella in my experience is truly one of the brightest leaders I’ve ever met,” Mayer said.

Virginia Addicott, president and CEO of FedEx Custom Critical, who has often found the landscape lonesome for fellow women in local corporate leadership over the years, also welcomed the announcement.

“I am thrilled to hear that Marcella will be taking the lead at GOJO,” she said. “I look forward to working with her in the Akron community and seeing her continue Joe’s legacy of innovation.

Kanfer Rolnick helped launch the company’s Purell Hand Sanitizer in the consumer market and then established the company’s initial e-business capability and digital strategy in the late 1990s. She also worked outside the family enterprise at a strategy consulting firm, multimedia publisher and boutique investment company before returning to GOJO to take on an expanded role. In addition to her role at GOJO, Marcella oversees Walnut Ridge, a holding company that manages the Kanfer Family investments and philanthropic interests.

While Kanfer Rolnick and her family live in Brooklyn, N.Y., she travels to Akron at least once a month, is active with GOJO on a daily basis and has said she feels very connected to her Akron community.

Bill Considine, CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital, said the choice of Kanfer Rolnick shows GOJO’s commitments to its roots.

“GOJO Industries is a local company that understands the importance of leadership and the value of engaging in the community,” said Bill Considine, “Joe Kanfer has led his Akron-based, family-owned company to world-class status. We wish him well as he transitions into his new role and look forward to working with Marcella Kanfer Rolnick as she takes the helm of GOJO as executive chair.”

For Kanfer, retirement has never been a word he used.

In a 2011 interview, Kanfer said he was beginning to move away from day-to-day operations and Kanfer Rolnick would eventually succeed him as board chair. But retirement “is not a word that is meaningful to me. What I want to do is coach and enrich and mentor people,” he said at the time.

Staff writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty