joe kenner

Unlocking Human Potential through Open Hiring®

For Joseph Kenner, CEO of Greyston, our country’s troubling employment numbers say it all.

The United States has close to 11 million unfilled jobs, 5.9 million people unemployed, and millions more people who have left the labor force altogether. Meanwhile, a Harvard Business School study suggests that there are 27 million so-called ‘hidden workers’ – people who have been excluded from employment because of hiring practices. Contributing to these statistics are large numbers of people who face barriers to employment, including people experiencing homelessness, disconnected youth, and formerly incarcerated individuals. 

“It’s very clear we don’t do hiring very well,” Kenner says. Particularly in regard to those on the sidelines of employment, “it’s a cost to society – whether it’s public assistance and the social safety net or the criminal justice system.”

Kenner first encountered Greyston when he was searching for keynote speakers for a fatherhood conference he chaired in a previous professional capacity as Deputy Commissioner of Social Services in Westchester County, New York. He immediately fell in love with the company and its impact. 

Founded in 1982, Greyston has long recognized that employment is the first step to self-sufficiency. The Greyston Bakery, New York’s first for-profit benefit corporation, has trademarked the Open Hiring® staffing model: no resume, no interviews, and no background checks. Anyone interested in working at the Bakery simply adds their name to the list and waits for the call that they have been hired. 

“I felt it was a great model for employment, particularly for the people we served in social services: those who were looking for work, but for whatever reason, had a barrier to employment,” Kenner recalls thinking at the time. “I just felt like people needed to know about this…I didn’t know about it, and I ran employment for social services.”

The Bakery is owned by Greyston Foundation: the non-profit arm that focuses on workforce development training and education, transitional employment programs, social services support, and the replication of Open Hiring® in other companies. 

“At our heart, it’s about unlocking human potential through inclusive employment,” Kenner says. “We give people hope back by, first, giving them a job and, next, giving them the training and support that makes them successful.” 

For Kenner, Greyston offered the possibility of marrying his varied career experiences with his personal desire to make an impact.

“I’ve always wanted a deeper connection to what I am doing,” he says. 

And so, Kenner officially joined Greyston in 2018 as Vice President of Programs and Partnerships. He was elevated to CEO less than two years later, in April 2020. 

“I’m very grateful for all my experiences: corporate, government, Wall Street… but Greyston brings it all together in a way that’s just truly impactful,” Kenner says. “I could not have written a better job description for myself.”

As Kenner grew into his role as an impact leader and a CEO, he prioritized leaning into the company’s core strengths.

“When I got to Greyston, we were in a lot of different things: low-income housing, community gardens, workforce development – and then, we had a bakery,” Kenner recalls. “I said, ‘It’s time to focus.’”

Collaborating with his executive team and the board, he led the effort to update Greyston’s mission statement, which now reads: “to unlock the power of human potential through inclusive employment.” He also developed the company’s 2030 vision, which emphasizes demonstrating how business can be a force for good.

For Greyston, achieving that mission meant embracing a more singular focus to increase impact. 

“At a certain point, you have to focus and direct your resources in the most productive area,” Kenner says. “For us, that is employment.”

That clarity of purpose only sharpened in the months after Kenner took over as chief executive, as the coronavirus pandemic took hold globally and civil unrest erupted following the murder of George Floyd.

“There was a loss of trust in systems – define ‘systems’ however you want: criminal justice, business, government,” Kenner says. “And it was clear to me this was the reason Greyston was founded. It was even clearer still why we needed to focus and double-down on seeing open hiring replicated and seeing that we focus on workforce development education and training. Those were the things we were good at.”

As CEO during those turbulent months, Kenner prioritized being a grounding force amidst unprecedented uncertainty for the people he employed.

“If you had looked inside of me, you would have seen fireworks and bombs going off,” he says. “Keeping a steady hand was very important to me – but more importantly, to the team.”

Now, more than two years into his CEO tenure, Kenner is proud to share that Greyston continues to see success in individual employee development, profitability of the Bakery, and a sustainable future of the nonprofit. 

“People who were once excluded are now being promoted…and businesses are coming to us saying, ‘We want to work with you,’ because it is clear what we are about,” he says. “The message is catching on, and this is prime time.”