Herbert “Herb” Vollrath Kohler, Jr., Kohler’s Executive Chairman and kitchen and bath industry leader, passed away on September 3 in Kohler, Wisconsin at the age of 83. An independent-minded entrepreneur, Kohler’s six decades of leadership were integral to Kohler’s growth and success, helping to shape the “Bold Look of Kohler” into what it is today.
A statement released by the Kohler family said: “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.”
Herb Kohler was born in Chicago on February 20, 1939. His father Herbert V. Kohler, Sr., son of Kohler Co. founder John Michael Kohler, served as Board Chairman and CEO of Kohler Co. from 1940 until his death in 1968. His mother Ruth De Young Kohler was a historian and former women’s editor of the Chicago Tribune.
Kohler attended the Kohler schools in Wisconsin and Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn. He joined the U.S. Army Reserve and studied at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, before completing his education at Yale University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Administration in 1965. He then rejoining Kohler as a full-time R&D technician.
Kohler held many roles within the company, including Director, Executive Vice President, Chairman of the Board, CEO and President. In 2015, he became the company’s Executive Chairman, with his son David stepping into the role of President and CEO.
Throughout his career, Kohler had many accomplishments. He was inducted into the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Kitchen & Bath Hall of Fame in its founding year of 1989, the National Housing Hall of Fame in 1993, and was named National Entrepreneur of the Year in Manufacturing in 2002 by Ernst & Young. In 2006, Junior Achievement inducted him into its U.S. Business Hall of Fame.
Kohler was the driver for 48 business acquisitions during his time at Kohler, including Sterling Faucet Co., Jacob Delafon and Mira. He also formed the Kohler Interiors Group, acquiring Baker Furniture, McGuire Furniture Company, Ann Sacks Tile and Stone, Kallista plumbing and Robern mirrored cabinets.
His passion for the outdoors and environmental preservation led to the development of the Kohler’s 12 Environmental Principles, which helped the company combine its environmental stewardship with manufacturing. In September 2022, the KOHLER Center for Marsh Education opened at the Sheboygan Marsh Wildlife Area to promote the environment, conservation, and stewardship through education, hands-on activities, and advocacy.
Kohler is survived by his wife, Natalie; two daughters, Laura Kohler (Steve Proudman), and Rachel Kohler (Mark Hoplamazian); and his son, David Kohler (Nina). He is further survived by 10 grandchildren, Lily, Hannah, and Rachel Proudman; Mara, Lena, and Leo Hoplamazian; Ashley, Samuel, Jack and Tait Kohler; and three great grandchildren, Ophelia, Herbert, and Uma Cartwright.
The family will host a private service. And at date to be determined, Kohler Co. will host a tribute to Herb Kohler for past and present associates. To learn more about Kohler, read the Kohler Co. statement here.