As the CEO of Blue Nile, one of the world’s largest online jewelers, Harvey Kanter knows a thing or two about sales, making money, and the power of technology. He also believes it’s important for businesses to plant roots, even if their customers are all over the world.
“I had this strong desire to get Blue Nile more involved in the community where we live,” said Kanter, who believes that community involvement is important to employees and building a successful business.
“How you get there is really critical,” Kanter said. “I’d rather get us involved in the community, do great work and get great results than produce great results and nothing else,” he said.
So, shortly after moving to Seattle in 2012, to take the Blue Nile job, Kanter toured Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He was “blown away,” he said, by the science he saw.
Kanter has a personal stake in the research. At 42, he was a marathoner and an avid cyclist, “healthy as an ox,” he said, when doctors found a golf ball-sized mass in his chest. It was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that originates in the lymphatic system.
Kanter endured five months of treatment, including surgery, five rounds of chemo and 20 rounds of radiation. Now, ten years later, he’s cancer-free and giving back.
On his tour of Fred Hutch, Kanter learned about Obliteride, a bike ride to raise money for cancer research at the Hutch. He was intrigued. He knew he’d found a way for his company to get involved in the community, for a cause he cared about deeply.
“You’ve got to pick where to spend your time, and cancer is just such a huge issue today in our society,” said Kanter.
The qualities that likely helped bring Kanter to the top of the business world are now helping him achieve his new goals.
Last year, he was Obliteride’s top fundraiser, bringing in $51,575, and every penny went to Fred Hutch. This year, Kanter is celebrating his 10th anniversary of being cancer free and has set a goal of raising $100,000. Blue Nile is also an Obliteride sponsor, hosting a rest stop, and has one of the largest fundraising teams.
Kanter credits his parents for instilling in him a great drive and energy, both professionally — Kanter’s dad, Gerald, has been a top exec at numerous retail companies, including Target — and personally.
Kanter speaks admiringly of how his mom, Ruth, handled her own cancer. After a diagnosis of sarcoma in her foot around age 60, she opted for a partial leg amputation to improve her odds of survival and lived nearly 10 more years before dying peacefully in her sleep.
“My mom never missed a beat,” said Kanter. “She just said, ‘Screw this.’ At some level that was inspiring.”
Now he’s a survivor himself, and, like his mom, he’s also looking forward.
“As a cancer survivor, every so often when you’re not feeling great, you always wonder if something’s up,” Kanter said. “And that extends itself to: ‘What am I doing today? Does it make a difference?’”
Fred Hutch’s Obliteride
With the passionate support of people like Kanter, Obliteride has raised more than $9 million for cancer research at Fred Hutch.
This year, Obliteride is celebrating its 5th anniversary in August and is planning a big party at Gas Works Park to kick off ride weekend on August 11. Obliteride is not just a bike ride. Participants enjoy a weekend of live entertainment, fantastic food from Tom Douglas Catering, and one of the best-supported rides in the country.
Obliteride is a fun bike ride, not a competition and it offers a variety of distances (from 25 to 150 miles) so everyone can participate. See what Obliteride is all about in this video.
Obliteride is August 13, 2017. To learn more or to register to ride, volunteer or donate, go to Obliteride.org.
If you still need inspiration, here are five more reasons to ride.
To donate to Kanter’s fundraising goal or to join the Blue Nile team, go here.
Kerri Kazarba Schneider from Obliteride and Susan Keown from Fred Hutch News Service contributed to this story.