The emphasis of the Kohler brand during his tenure was design. Kohler accelerated the company’s strategy of bringing the automotive industry’s cyclical design fads, wide color choices and luxury additions to what had been a monotonous home appliance market.
According to the company, Kohler was generating $6 billion in annual revenue the year Herb Kohler stepped down in 2015, up from $133 million when he started. Last year, it grossed $8 billion in revenue.
During his tenure, Kohler acquired several businesses and rivals: Baker Furniture, McGuire Furniture and Sterling Faucet, as well as engine and generator manufacturers. But he was best known for the “Bold Look of Kohler” campaign, which brought avocado-green, gold-harvest appliances to the kitchen, and then introduced fully voice-operated bathrooms.
In 1981 he also created the American Club Resort, located in Kohler, Wisconsin, a five-star, five-diamond resort to expand into the hospitality business. It was built on the site of what had been the housing of the company’s workers at the beginning of the 20th century.
Kohler himself was known for trying out company hot tubs, testing Kohler sweets, and creating and playing every golf course, even importing a strain of black sheep common in Ireland to make a course more authentic.
An avid golfer, Kohler built four courses in Wisconsin and eventually brought the Ryder Cup to his Whistling Straits course in Sheboygan in 2019.
Kohler was founded in 1873 by Herb Kohler’s grandfather, John Michael Kohler, an Austrian immigrant, with Charles Silberzahn, who later sold his minority share. It remains a private and family property.