Connecting with the customer in a meaningful, positive and sometimes curious way is one of the most important measures of success. As Kohler Co. Executive Chairman Herb Kohler often references, if a person who remembers an instance with the KOHLER brand years after the fact – whether they purchased a product or service, or recall seeing a compelling print advertisement or TV commercial – and it causes that individual to smile, then mission accomplished.
Herb was elected Chairman of the Board and CEO in July 1972, and President of the company in April 1974, marking a third generation of Kohler family leadership. In the time since, he has received more than 1,200 design and utility patents in the United States and internationally. He would go on to become, in the words of one publication, “beyond any question, the most creative and constructive influence on the industry in this era.”
Beginning in the early 1970s, he created a force with “THE BOLD LOOK OF KOHLER” that forever changed the American bathroom, transforming what was once a strictly utilitarian space into a statement of design, style, sophistication and craftsmanship.
Herb upgraded the industry’s marketing, distribution, customer direction and overall financial success. More than that, he made the industry more exciting, more interesting and more fun.
He sees two primary drivers of the success of the KOHLER brand. One is the imaginative concept and design of the products. The other is the very imaginative advertising that allows the company to communicate directly with the consumer.
Instead of pushing sales through their distribution channels by advertising primarily to distributors, plumbing contractors and builders, Herb sought to pull sales through its channels by advertising to consumers.
He has always viewed his fixtures and faucets as pieces of art and the company’s advertising has reflected that sensibility. One early magazine ad featured a toilet sitting in the middle of the road and a woman in a long flowing gown gazing at it. Two of the company’s better-known campaigns, are the “Edge of Imagination” series of the 1970s and the “As I See It” more recently.
Herb has been Executive Chairman since 2015 after having served as Chairman and Chief Executive of Kohler Co. since 1972. While diverse in its products and services, the Company focuses on living environments; in the kitchen and bath with its plumbing products, tile and mirrored cabinetry; around the home with its engines and power systems; and at two world-class golf destinations that act as showrooms in Kohler, Wisconsin, and St Andrews, Scotland. The Company’s Whistling Straits golf course has hosted the PGA Championship in 2004, 2010 and 2015, and will host the 2020 Ryder Cup.
Herb has been a director of the National Association of Manufacturers and a Trustee of Outward Bound, Lawrence University, the Kennedy Center and the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art. He was elected to the National Kitchen & Bath Industry Hall of Fame, the National Housing Hall of Fame and the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame. In 2002, he was named the Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year in Manufacturing.
In 2018, Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide recognized Herb as the recipient of its annual Steward of History and Historic Preservation award for The American Club. In 2019, the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame enshrined him as part of its 69th class for transforming Wisconsin into a worldwide golfing destination and brining six golf Majors to Wisconsin and the 2020 Ryder Cup.