Kohler stands before one of the historic murals adorning
Kohler Co.'s main office. His great-uncle, Walter Kohler,
commissioned prominent American artist Arthur Covey to
create the murals, which he did after spending weeks in
the Kohler factory for inspiration. They were exhibited
at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York and other museums
and then in 1925 were installed at the company's general
office in Kohler, Wis.
values: David Kohler '92 on reinvesting capital and convictions
is a leader in his industry and exemplifies excellence in
his family business.
careers progress, most business-minded heirs of successful
entrepreneurs are eventually faced with a choice: dive into
the family business or strike out on their own.
David Kohler '92, the question was not whether he would
return to the family business, but when he would. "I
always knew Kohler Co. would be a part of my life," he
says, "but I never thought I'd be back this early."
Actually, he has been working with the company in an executive
capacity since 1993, when he was named director of fixtures
marketing for its North American plumbing business. He spent
two years as a business analyst and a foreman in the cast
iron foundry at Kohler Co. after receiving his undergraduate
degree from Duke University and later studied marketing management
at the Kellogg School. From there, only a brief internship
with Dayton-Hudson Corp. stood between Kohler and a career
in his family's business.
he is Kohler Co.'s executive vice president and serves on
the company's board of directors.
Co. is perhaps not the first company that comes to mind at
the mention of a "family business." The Wisconsin-based
manufacturer has been privately owned and operated since its
founding in 1873, and in 2006, Kohler surpassed $5 billion
in total sales. Best known for its kitchen and bath products,
the company also makes and distributes products as diverse
as home furnishings and engines and generators, not to mention
its two high-end golf resorts — one in Kohler, Wis.,
and one in St. Andrews, Scotland.
how working with family has shaped his value system, Kohler
notes the unique position he is in, having grown up surrounded
by the people who made Kohler Co. what it is today, to use
the tools they gave him to build better ones. "I am a
product of that environment and an agent shaping that environment,"
he says. Though there are many diverse perspectives within
the family, Kohler says their essential values match. "We're
very similar in our core beliefs and in respect for this company,
community ... valuing a strong work ethic and not living a
life of privilege."
temptation for those affiliated with a privately held company
boasting the aforementioned sales figures to live a life of
leisure may be great, but on this point, Kohler Co. walks
the walk. "We re-invest more than 90 percent of our earnings
back into the company," says Kohler.
also points out that of the company's 32,000 employees, only
six are family members. "The real strength," he
says, "is having 32,000 people who buy into our mission,
guiding principles and core competencies."
addition to his work with Kohler Co., Kohler is a member of
the board of directors for Atlanta-based flooring company
Interface Inc. — a board he joined through fellow Kellogg
alum Chris Kennedy '94 — and Interceramic, a leading
tile manufacturer and distributor in Mexico and the United
not a person who favors politics or posturing," says
Kohler, who believes the best leaders are the ones whose private
values shine through in their public works.
truly great leader — their personal convictions are
consistent with their leadership style," he says, describing
great leadership as a mélange of character, competence, commitment
and results. He adds that the leaders at Kohler Co. continuously
strive to improve themselves. "We remain very humble.
We're very self-critical in that respect ... keeping the principles
and the values strong has been incredibly important in building