Chairman of Kohler passes away

USA-based bathroom and kitchen manufacturer Kohler mourns the loss of chairman Herbert V. Kohler, Jr.

Herbert Kohler died aged 83 on September 3. He was the grandson of Kohler’s founder John Michael Kohler and son of Herbert V. Kohler, Sr.

Serving the family business for 61 years, he started out in the family business doing summer jobs when he was still at school. After studying at University of Zurich in Switzerland then graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial administration from Yale University in 1965, he started full-time at Kohler as an R&D technician.

Two years later in 1967 he became director of the company, and only a year later after his father died he was promoted to Vice President of Operations. After becoming part of the board, he continued to move up the ladder as 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. in 2015, he became the company’s executive chairman, with son David taking the helm as president and CEO. He served Kohler Co. for 61 years.

He has overseen many changes to the company and acquisitions, one of the most prevalent was in the 1970s where he spearheaded the change of Kohler for it’s the ‘bold look of Kohler’ brand that helped bring more design lead products.

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.

He made 48 acquisitions over his tenure and this began with Sterling Faucet that joined the Kohler family of businesses in 1984, followed by French plumbing company Jacob Delafon in 1986, and UK shower manufacturer Mira in 2001.

There were three principles he led the company by : live on the leading edge of design and technology of product and process, have a single standard of quality above the norm with everything the company does and invest 90% of Kohler Co.’s annual earnings back into the company

He was said to be admired by many as an accomplished, dynamic leader; independent-minded entrepreneur; courageous innovator; and passionate creative. Also, he was a hands-on executive who was full of ideas for improving products and processes – he would be involved with design decisions as well as putting his thoughts into marketing strategy. He designed many of the company’s products himself and held more than 200 design and utility patents.

Herbert Kohler once said to his associates: “We have the people, the products, the focus, the resources, and the passion to pursue our mission and compete successfully.”

He once said in an interview: “If I sell you a bathtub, there has to be something about it that gives you pleasure not only at the time of the transaction. Years later, we want you to think this is one of the best buys of your life.

“The same applies with everything we provide – an engine, generator, toilet, table, hotel room, spa service, golf course, you name it. If you think about it five years later and, inwardly or outwardly, it makes you smile and we can do this consistently, then we’re living up to our mission.”

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