How talent, experience and family ties can combine in the investment search

Joe Kanfer

Joe Kanfer

Find a company. Buy a company. Grow a company. You can’t define that particular mission of an investment-minded entrepreneur any simpler.

And to get to that point, experience and talent are mandatory requirements. If you add a relationship such as family ties, it’s a bonus.

It’s a route that is being taken by KBZ Partners LLC of Akron, formed and funded by two families with deep roots in the Northeast Ohio business scene.

The partnership includes Joe Kanfer, Marcella Kanfer Rolnick, Todd Bendis and Don Zigdon. Three have roles or have had roles at GOJO Industries Inc., known best as the inventors of Purell Hand Sanitizer.

Kanfer is CEO and chairman of GOJO Industries and his daughter Marcella is vice chair. Zigdon, Kanfer’s son-in-law, has worked in the operational excellence department of the company, and Bendis has worked for General Electric in the GE Capital Division and at Greif, an industrial packaging manufacturer.

Marcella Kanfer

Marcella Kanfer

Smart Business discussed with KBZ Partners what goes into becoming a team of investment-minded entrepreneurs.

Q: What was the impetus behind KBZ Partners?

Kanfer: We’ve always been interested and active in Northeast Ohio. Our core business, GOJO, has been here since my uncle founded it in 1946. When Don, Todd and Marcella were talking about their interests, the idea clicked that this was a good opportunity for us to expand our interests here at home with talented folks who want to take an entrepreneurial approach in Northeast Ohio.

Q. Did the timing feel right for this type of initiative here?

Kanfer: Northeast Ohio has a lot of good things going for it. We know it and we like it. You can never predict when times are going to get better or worse, so the larger economy has not played a role in our decision. This is really a people-based choice — we have confidence in Don, Todd and in Northeast Ohio.

akr_cle_ftr_DonZigdon_0813Q: Where does KBZ see the best opportunities?

Bendis: In the industrial B2B space. It’s a good fit with the strengths of the region, as well as the strengths of our expertise. The ideal situation would be to find a manufacturing company that has a differentiated product serving a niche valuable to its customer supply chain. Our goal is threefold: Find a company. Buy a company. And then grow the company. We feel we can take a business that has been successful and get it to the next level of growth.

Kanfer: We’ve talked about family-owned businesses, but we are not limiting our search to them. We have a lot of respect for family-owned businesses because you often have a very solid culture and very solid relationships with people. Think about it, when you walk into a new business, you are really not acquiring the product line for the business line — you are really joining with people. That’s what this is about: Can you bring a freshness of perspective, perhaps some new capital, perhaps relational or strategic assets?

Todd Bendis

Todd Bendis

But that has to build upon the people. What we have seen is that privately owned businesses have strong relationships with talented and committed people, and they tend to make investments with a longer perspective in mind than publicly held businesses. It’s a good base to build from.

Q: How do you intend to apply the lessons you have learned at GOJO to this new partnership?

Kanfer: Marcella and I will act as sounding boards while the business will be run and operated by Todd and Don, and potentially the folks whose business we acquire. But clarity is the real critical element. Clarity provides a focus to everyone — people want to know what they are responsible for.

Q: How important will a company’s culture be in this venture?

Bendis: It will be a blending of cultures. The key is taking the best of both and moving forward. Hopefully, that results in a company that puts itself on a new trajectory to growth by leveraging a superior culture.

How to reach: KBZ Partners, (630) 423-6347 or www.kbzpartners.com.