Carey Jaros is president and CEO of Gojo, makers of Purell Hand Sanitizer.
Jennifer Strailey: Hand sanitizer was one of 2020’s most sought-after products. As president and CEO of Gojo, makers of Purell Hand Sanitizer, what has been your biggest professional takeaway from the past year?
Carey Jaros: The power of our "Gojo purpose.” Our team members have told us over and over again that what kept them going during those months of around-the-clock work was our Gojo purpose of saving lives and making life better. Our Gojo purpose also guided us when we had to make hard decisions during the early days of the pandemic, especially prioritizing shipping hand sanitizer to hospitals, first responders and grocery stores.
How did Gojo handle product shortages, and how has your business evolved as a result?
We responded to nearly infinite demand by turning on production 24/7, creatively sourcing bottles and pumps and raw materials, hiring over 500 new Gojo team members, and ultimately pulling forward $400 million in capital expenditures—more than 10 years our typical spend. We activated over 2.5 million square feet of manufacturing and distribution, expanding into the manufacturing of our own bottles and pumps and adding three new facilities, including a new plant dedicated to Purell Surface Spray.
Did pandemic-driven product shortages impact your relationship with grocery retailers? If so, how?
Early in the pandemic, Gojo prioritized grocery retailers as one of only a handful of markets employing front-line workers, along with healthcare, first responders and military. We prioritized shipping Purell products like hand sanitizer, soap and wipes into grocery retailers at levels significantly higher than their historical usage. In some cases, demand was more than 10 times normal levels, so even after focusing all of our supply on these markets, there were times we fell short of their needs. While we hate to disappoint any of our customers who rely on us to help keep their stakeholders safe, we are proud of the ways in which our Gojo team members worked to triage every situation and provide the very best support we could.
In some ways, our relationships are stronger because we were truly in it together. Our grocery retail customers worked hard to do the right thing for their employees and shoppers, and they knew we were doing all we could to help them.
GOJO was recently certified by the WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) as a Women’s Business Enterprise. What does this mean to you personally and what does this mean for the company as a whole?
We are proud to be a WBENC-certified family enterprise. WBENC certification aligns with our GOJO values and our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. By including WBEs (Women’s Business Enterprises) among their suppliers, our partners and customers can demonstrate their own commitment to fostering diversity and equity, grow their supplier diversity programs, and make progress toward their goals.
What past experience best prepared you for leadership during a pandemic?
I spent my childhood summers at a canoe-tripping camp in Canada. Starting from a young age, I left the “comforts” of camp—where there was no running water and no electricity—to canoe-trip throughout Northern Ontario. The leaders on these trips were only teenagers, and we set out for days or weeks with only freeze-dried food, matches, sleeping bags and tents. Nearly every trip came with unforeseen challenges, most of which only caused minor inconvenience or discomfort and required basic problem-solving. But over a decade there, there were some real douzies. The storms and accidents, run-ins with bears and moose, getting lost, running out of food—all of these experiences taught me essential lessons. The fragility of individuals and the strength of teams; that optimism and courage are always better than negativity and fear; that your conditions change constantly, so you’d better always be learning, reassessing and evolving your plans. When I look back over the last year, I am glad I spent those summers in the woods.
Looking ahead, what project or opportunity for Gojo most excites you?
We have known for generations that the single easiest way to reduce the transmission of germs that cause illness is by practicing good hand hygiene. One of the few silver linings of this pandemic is that people finally realize how empowering it is to have Purell Hand Sanitizer within reach, and they want the businesses they patronize to make it easily accessible to them. I am deeply excited to help businesses provide peace of mind to customers and employees by making Purell products a centerpiece in their “new normal.”
What was your dream job when you were 10 years old? President of the United States.
What’s one thing you can’t wait to do when the pandemic is over? Resume our Sunday morning routine—church and brunch at my parents’ house with my husband and three daughters.
Best memory from 2020? Walking around our plant during the early days of the pandemic and hearing our masked Gojo team members tell me how proud they were to be putting their own lives at risk to be making products for front-line workers.
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