By Richie Burke Contributor Published Nov 09, 2020 at 5:01 PM

Last Thursday, as part of Rotary Club of Milwaukee, I sat down (virtually) with David Kohler, the fourth-generation CEO of Kohler Company. This broadly-known company was founded by David’s great grandfather, John Michael Kohler, in 1873. 

What started as a plow and farm implement manufacturer has grown into the global leader in the kitchen, bath, power and hospitality sectors. Kohler Co. now grosses around $7 billion annually and employs over 35,000 associates. 

I was excited to talk to David for a number of reasons: I wanted to learn more about the postponement of this year’s Ryder Cup, explore what it’s like to run a global family business and see how Kohler Co. has adapted to this strange year we call 2020. We also discuss climate change and what Kohler’s role looks like as an environmental citizen.


How Kohler has responded to COVID

By the time COVID hit the U.S., Kohler Co. was as prepared as it could have been. Due to the company’s global reach, they first saw the impact in China, then South Korea, then Europe before landing stateside. This enabled them to design safety protocols, keeping the plants running smoothly as an essential business.

Though their hospitality business took a hit, other areas like plumbing, power systems, and kitchen and bath have thrived. Kohler Co. was also openly critical of the U.S. response to the pandemic. They’ve mentioned a V-shaped recovery in countries that were prepared while the U.S. market will see something closer to a Nike Swoosh – this means GDP is projected to return to 2019 levels by 2022 if the situation is better managed.

Though markets are hovering around a high, that’s not a good health indicator for the economy as a whole. Those numbers actually reflect a smaller slice of citizens who have the most invested in the stock market, furthering our gap of economic inequality.

David Kohler on climate change

As climate change makes an increasingly large impact on our country and global community, David brings words of wisdom about how a company can be both capitalist and environmentalist without sacrificing profits or damning the business. It’s something Kohler has lived by since 2008 when they presented their Net 0 by 2035 plan, setting out to eliminate their environmental footprint.

They’ve been off to a great start, reducing their footprint by 25 percent from 2008-2016. The benefits are clear, as consumers want to support companies with a strong code of ethics. Kohler’s water-conserving plumbing products are one good example, having saved over 230 billion gallons of water since their introduction. Consumers save money while positively impacting the environment. In the end, it’s all about creating a win-win.

This year’s Ryder Cup

This year, the PGA of America worked closely with the Kohler Company and local and national officials to come to a conclusion: The Ryder Cup will be postponed a year. 

On this week’s episode of The GoGedders Podcast, Kohler said, “It was a difficult decision, but looking back, it was the only decision. You could not have executed the Ryder Cup to its true level of excitement and drama without fans, and doing it in its natural state.”

Even with the postponement and lingering uncertainty of what 2021 will look like, support has not waivered. Though some corporate partners ended up dropping support for the Ryder Cup, they’ve managed to replace those with new partners while other corporations have expanded their presence at next year’s event.

Be sure to tune in to the episode. It’s a good one featuring an inspiring company and great leader. If you have any feedback or suggestions for future episodes, please reach out directly to me here: