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Local News

Herb Kohler, Golf Course and Resort Owner and Former CEO of Kohler Company Dies at 83

Credit: iStock

Jeff Fuentes Gleghorn

Herb Kohler, who was the CEO of Kohler Company from 1972 to 2015, passed away on Saturday, September 3. “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.” 

Kohler was successful in nearly every project he took on. When he took over Kohler Company in 1972 it was worth $133 million, and when he stepped down in 2015 it was making $6 billion a year in revenue. Kohler Company currently employs over 40,000 people worldwide, and as of January 2020 had around 7,500 employees in Wisconsin, a majority of which are in Sheboygan County.

Beyond the company, Herb Kohler created a world class resort in Wisconsin. In the early 80s he fought to remodel an old dorm building owned by the company. The board rejected his proposal twice, but finally approved the idea. In the end, he built a five star, five diamond resort in east Wisconsin. “To take a small town like Kohler and to transform it into a destination hospitality facility, was a definite accomplishment,” Greg Hanis, president of Hospitality Makers International, said. “He took an old building and completely renovated it and made it a destination facility.” 

After the success of the resort, Kohler turned his attention to golf courses. In characteristic fashion, he would not settle for a mediocre result. He ended up building two championship-class golf courses, Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits. Gary D’Amato, a writer for Wisconsin Golf, said Kohler “transformed golf in our state,” adding that “He’s probably the single most important figure in Wisconsin golf history. We were a flyover state until he built those courses. Nobody came to Wisconsin to play golf from other parts of the country.” Herb Kohler truly was “all in, all the time.”