Longtime Kohler Co. chairman Herb Kohler Jr., who led his family’s company for decades and put Wisconsin on the map as an international golf destination, passed away on Saturday at the age of 83.
In a press release Sunday afternoon, his family said that bold ideas and hands-on leadership transformed the plumbing products manufacturer founded by his grandfather into a global and diverse family of businesses synonymous with unmatched quality, creativity, and bold innovation.
Elected president of the company at age 35, Kohler worked at Kohler Co. for 61 years, leading the family-owned company into becoming a worldwide leader in home fixtures and furnishings. His son David took over as president in 2013 and Kohler had been serving as Executive Chairman.
In the early 1970s, Kohler was responsible for creating “THE BOLD LOOK OF KOHLER” that “forever changed the American bathroom and kitchen, transforming what were once utilitarian spaces into statements of design, style, sophistication, and craftsmanship,” his family said in the release.
During his 43-year span as CEO, he also transformed his family-owned company into a world leader, with more than 40,000 associates and dozens of manufacturing facilities on six continents.
The National Kitchen and Bath Hall of Fame inducted him in its founding year of 1989, followed by the National Housing Hall of Fame in 1993. Ernst & Young named him National Entrepreneur of the Year in Manufacturing in 2002, and Junior Achievement inducted him into its U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2006.
A longtime professional golf fan, Kohler created two championship-level golf courses in Wisconsin: Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits. The two courses have hosted six separate majors tournaments – the U.S. Women’s Open; the PGA Championship, three times; the U.S. Senior Open; and most recently the Ryder Cup in 2021. Kohler was inducted into the the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 2019 in honor of his work with golf in the state.
“His zest for life, adventure and impact inspires all of us. 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.
Kohler is survived by his wife, Natalie; two daughters, Laura and Rachel; and one son, David.