Last update on September 4, 2022 at 6:06 p.m.
Herbert V. Kohler Jr.one of Wisconsin’s most iconic business leaders who led and transformed the Kohler Co.founded by his grandfather, into a global giant and developed golf courses in Sheboygan County that made the state an internationally renowned golf destination, died Saturday in Kohler at the age of 83, the company announced today.
Born in 1939 in Chicago, Kohler was the son of Herbert V. Kohler Sr., who was the son of Kohler Co. founder John Michael Kohler, who started the company in 1873. Herbert V. Kohler Sr. was president and CEO of Kohler. Co. from 1940 until his death in 1968.
Growing up, Herbert V. Kohler Jr. spent many summers as a laborer on Kohler farms and in most Kohler Co. manufacturing divisions. He graduated from Yale in 1965.
Kohler joined the family business full-time as an R&D technician shortly after graduating from college. He became a member of the company’s board of directors in 1967, and when his father died a year later, he became vice president of operations.
He was named executive vice president in 1971, was elected chairman of the board and CEO in 1972, and president of the company in 1974 – at the age of 35.
Kohler transformed the company, a maker of bathroom accessories, which influenced the way Americans thought about designing their kitchens and bathrooms.
In 1967, the company launched The Bold Look of Kohler, a marketing campaign featuring toilets, tubs, sinks, and other fixtures in unique colors.
Kohler embraced The Bold Look of Kohler as a new guiding spirit for the company, positioning it as a producer and supplier of premium products and services. He used The Bold Look of Kohler to promote the company’s products as not just utilitarian, but high-quality pieces that made design and style statements, especially for bathrooms and kitchens. luxury. This approach has largely contributed to high-end design trends for kitchens and bathrooms in general.
During his 43 years as CEO, Kohler has transformed his family business into a global leader, with more than 40,000 employees and dozens of manufacturing plants on six continents.
Helping to drive this growth, the company completed more than 48 acquisitions under Kohler’s leadership. It started with Sterling Faucet Co. which joined the Kohler family of companies in 1984, followed by French plumbing company Jacob Delafon in 1986 and British shower manufacturer Mira in 2001.
Kohler formed the Kohler Interiors Group, the company’s furniture, title and decorative products division, acquiring the high-end luxury brands Baker Furniture, McGuire Furniture Company, Ann Sacks Tile and Stone, Kallista plumbing and cabinetry Robert mirror.
Kohler has also grown the company’s other core business – Kohler Power – and expanded the portfolio with a series of acquisitions, including Italian diesel engine maker Lombardini in 2007 and French generator company SDMO in 2005. Today, Kohler Co. is the third largest group in the world. the organization of electricity networks in the world, according to the company.
Perhaps Kohler’s most publicized decision to lead the company was the creation of its hotel division. It started in the late 1970s when he decided to redevelop the American Club, originally built as a dormitory for immigrant workers in 1918, into a luxury resort. It was a move the company’s board twice rejected, but Kohler persisted.
Skeptics doubted people would come to stay at a luxury resort in Sheboygan County. But Kohler thought if the station was top notch, it would be a draw.
Today, the American Club is the only AAA Five Diamond Resort hotel in the Midwest, a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Hotels of America program, and among a handful worldwide to have both AAA Five Diamond designations and Forbes Five-Star.
The success of the American Club led to Kohler’s decision to build world-class golf courses in Sheboygan County. After seeing many American Club guests golfing at local golf courses, Kohler decided to build his own, the first Blackwolf Run at Kohler, which opened in 1988, and then Whistling Straits, which opened in 1998 north of Sheboygan.
These golf courses have hosted several professional championship golf tournaments that have made Wisconsin a world-class golf destination. Blackwolf Run has twice hosted the US Women’s Open. Whistling Straits has hosted the PGA Championship three times, the US Senior Open and last year hosted the Ryder Cup.
In 2015, Kohler became executive chairman of the company, with his son David taking the helm as chairman and CEO.
Herb Kohler Jr. served Kohler Co. for 61 years.
“Herb Kohler’s personal mission was to create fun,” the company said in a press release today. “For him, there was no half. To warrant the “Kohler” nameplate, a product had to be more than durable, functional and attractive. It had to be joyful and memorable.
“His joie de vivre, his adventure and his impact inspire us all. We traveled together, celebrated together and worked together. He was all in, all the time, leaving an indelible mark on how we live our lives today and carry on his legacy,” his family said.
“He was admired by many as an accomplished and dynamic leader; independent-minded entrepreneur; brave innovator; and passionate creative. Herb, more than anyone, has lived and breathed Kohler Co.’s mission to provide customers with a life of grace every day. He was a great personality who unwaveringly guided Kohler’s associates in the relentless pursuit of the company’s mission, and he found immense joy in witnessing his customers’ delight firsthand,” the company said.
“If I sell you a bathtub, there has to be something that makes you happy and not just at the time of the transaction. Years later, we want you to think this is one of the best purchases of your life,” he once said in an interview. “The same goes for everything we provide – an engine, a generator, a toilet, a table, a hotel room, a spa service, a golf course, etc. If you think about it five years later and that, inside or out, it makes you smile and we can do it consistently, then we live up to our mission.
The family plans to hold a private funeral service. On a date to be determined, Kohler Co. will host a tribute to Herb Kohler for past and present employees.