Obit: Business titan Kohler led family company for 4 decades

KOHLER, Wis. (AP) — Herbert Kohler Jr., who led the plumbing fixture manufacturer his grandfather founded for more than four decades and who turned the tiny Wisconsin village that bears his name into a hospitality destination, is being remembered as a businessman whose impact stretched far beyond his home state.

Kohler died Saturday at age 83.

“His zest for life, adventure and impact inspires all of us,” his family said in a statement. “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.”

During his time as CEO, Kohler grew the company from a $133 million operation in 1972 to one that approached $6 billion in annual revenue in 2015 when he turned over the top job to his son, David Kohler.

Kohler transformed The American Club, built in 1918 for immigrant workers at Kohler, into a five-star, five-diamond resort and built the championship golf courses, Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits.

In 2019, when Whistling Straits was chosen to be the site of the Ryder Cup, Kohler said it was a “once in a lifetime” event for the state and estimated an economic impact of $135 million.

The Ryder Cup was delayed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but in 2021 it welcomed golf fans from around the world.

Kohler was 26 when he began working for the family company after graduating from Yale in 1965. He became chairman and CEO of Kohler Company in 1972.