Herbert Kohler, Plumbing Mogul Who Created a Golf Mecca, Dies at 83 – The New York Times

September 16, 2022 by No Comments

Herbert V. Kohler Jr., who built a century-old family business known for bathtubs, toilets and faucets into a multibillion-dollar global enterprise and turned a tiny company town into an unlikely stop for the world’s top golfers, died on Sept. 3 in Kohler, Wis. He was 83.

The death was announced on the Kohler Company website. No cause was cited.

As a young man, Mr. Kohler bridled at his father’s wish that he join the business full time after college.

“That just wasn’t my cup of tea,” he told Forbes in 2010.

But he ultimately took the path that had effectively been set for him when his grandfather John Michael Kohler, an Austrian immigrant, bought a Sheboygan, Wis., foundry with a partner in 1873.

The company, which began as a maker of plows and other agricultural implements, took a defining turn 10 years later when its patriarch put enamel on a cast-iron vessel used as a horse trough and for scalding hogs and sold it to farm families as a bathtub.

Kohler was on its way to literally becoming a household name.

The company’s fixtures were included in a 1929 Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition of contemporary home design. Its colorful “The Bold Look of Kohler” advertising campaign was introduced in 1967.

By 1972, when Herbert Kohler Jr. took the top job at the privately held business, which also made engines and generators, it had $133 million in annual sales and was the second-largest U.S. producer of kitchen and bath fixtures, behind American Standard.

When he retired as chief executive in 2015, it had annual sales of $6 billion. In 2018 it was the top choice for bath fixtures and accessories among U.S. builders, according to the research firm Statista.

Under Mr. Kohler, the company acquired makers of furniture, cabinets and tiles; built or bought factories in China, Mexico, India, Europe and elsewhere; and developed two-person bathtubs, robotic toilets and a shower with stereo sound.

He also started a golf and hotel business that attracted three P.G.A. championships, a U.S. Senior Open, two U.S. Women’s Opens and last year’s Ryder Cup to Sheboygan County and allowed him to put his mark on the seaside Scottish town where the game was born.

Mr. Kohler’s vision, drive and appetite for risk fueled the company’s growth. He might have been slow to embrace his dynastic destiny, but when he did, it was with gusto.

“I loved it,” he told Forbes, “because I saw so much potential for change.”

Herbert Vollrath Kohler Jr. was born on Feb. 20, 1939, in Sheboygan, about an hour north of Milwaukee. His father was the Kohler Company’s chairman and chief executive. His mother, Ruth (De Young) Kohler, was a historian and a former women’s editor at The Chicago Tribune.

Young Herbert’s mother died when he was a teenager, and he was sent east to boarding school, initially at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where, …….

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/16/business/herbert-kohler-dead.html

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