Josh Kanter, leafplanner
Josh Kanter started leafplanner, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform based in Salt Lake City, to organize and share information about a family enterprise. He based his work on his decades-long experience handling his own family’s income- and estate-tax controversies in the wake of his father’s death, a process that involved rebuilding his single-family office and balancing the interests of three generations of 15 family members. Kanter sat down with Crain Currency to share his journey.
How did your personal family-office experience morph into the launch of leafplanner?
My father was a world-renowned trust and estate lawyer who represented a who’s who of corporate America from the 1960s through the 1980s, such as the Pritzkers, Sam Zell, Chuck Dolan. When he got sick in 2000, I left my career as a lawyer to help my family manage what would end up being 33 years of complex tax litigation.
The experience raised a lot of questions for me: How do you think about estate planning and an investment portfolio when you’re dealing with a multigenerational framework?
What leafplanner does is to enable customers to apply a family-office lens to their own family. It’s a digital document and information-sharing platform for estates and family offices.
How was your family’s wealth created?
My dad was a classic deal junkie. He would go into everything. So we had literally a pasta manufacturer in New Jersey, we had a chip manufacturer that made one of the navigation chips for the original cruise missile, we had a handwriting technology company that was way before its time. But most of our success came from health-care-related ventures. We were early investors in Soniccare toothbrush; in Clarisonic facial brush; some biotech and life sciences, too. And we still invest in the health care space.
What were the main challenges you faced when you and your brother took over the business?
The most difficult thing was knowing what was in my dad’s head. How did all these pieces of his empire fit together? And that’s really where the leafplanner story came from — because I realized that our family was surrounded by a bunch of smart advisers, but nobody had the whole picture. How do you pull all these pieces together? And if something happens to me, how does the rest of the family pick up the enterprise?
We’ve reported that family offices are often slow to adopt new technology. Is that true in your experience?
Actually, I think they’re getting much better at adopting new technology. The coordination of information is really getting critical because there’s just so much damn information out there. And there’s a need for more engagement, which more family offices are realizing. They say that baby boomers are set to pass their children more than $68 trillion, the biggest wealth transfer in history. Technology is essential to help them plan for that future.