Laureation address: Herbert Vollrath Kohler, Jr.

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws
Laureation by Professor Lorna Milne, Master and Deputy Principal Designate

Thursday 6 December 2018

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Herbert Vollrath Kohler, Jr.

Herbert (known as Herb) Kohler, a graduate of Yale University, was Chairman and Chief Executive of the Kohler Company for 43 years and is now its Executive Chairman. 

The company, founded by Mr Kohler’s grandfather in 1873, has its headquarters in Kohler, Wisconsin and focuses on living environments: in the kitchen and bathroom with its plumbing products, tiling and cabinets; and elsewhere around the home with its engines and power systems; and in hospitality and golf at two world-class golf destinations. This latter part of the enterprise embraces prestigious courses at the historic American Club in Wisconsin, one of only five five-diamond, five-star resort hotels in the world, which has hosted six of golf’s Majors and will welcome the 2020 Ryder Cup. It also includes the St Andrews Old Course Hotel and Hamilton Grand apartments. Rumour has it that Mr Kohler is really quite fond of golf. 

As well as acquiring over 200 design and utility patents during the course of his career, Mr Kohler has received numerous accolades for his tremendous achievements in business, industry improvements, and his support, through business, for education, culture and the environment. Let me quote just one or two, to give you a flavour of the breadth of his activities. In 1994 he was honoured for Innovative Technology by the Wisconsin Business Friends of the Environment; in 2002 he was Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in Manufacturing; in 2016, Mr Kohler received the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s Old Tom Morris Award; and earlier this year he was named a Steward of History and Historic Preservation in the Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence. The Kohler Environmental Center at Choate Rosemary Hall, Connecticut – the first-ever residential teaching and research centre for the study of the environment in US secondary education – has garnered multiple awards for its conception, design and achievements. And Mr Kohler has been personally inducted into no fewer than five American industry Halls of Fame (spanning business, housing and interiors), reminding us of his remarkable impact across a variety of sectors. Finally, not content with all of that, Mr Kohler was founder of the Environmental Institute of Golf; he is a trustee of the Kennedy Center and the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art; and he is an acknowledged expert in breeding Morgan horses, for which he was inducted into another Hall of Fame in 1996.

Here in Fife, through the acquisition of the Old Course Hotel, Duke’s Course and the former Hamilton Hall (once a University hall of residence), Mr Kohler has shown a lasting commitment to the town and people of St Andrews. We’re delighted to welcome him back to St Andrews today, together with his wife Natalie, who is in the audience.

The Kohler Company also supports an impressive international range of charitable and social impact initiatives, particularly in areas that are pertinent to its own expertise, for example the provision of clean water through improved filtration, or education for aspiring designers and engineers.

Mr Kohler’s acumen, management style, far-sightedness and commitment to providing and improving things that people want, whether commercially or charitably, has made a difference to the lives of more people than one individual could ever meet. In that way, his contribution to the business of business itself is all the greater.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to business, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on Herbert Kohler.

Herbert Kohler's response

Professor, Vice chancellor, Chancellor.

When I was informed that I would be considered fo an Honorary Doctor of Laws I told this to my wife, herself a lawyer and retired general counsel, who looked at me as her eyes widened, and exclaimed, “can you tell me what aspect of your behaviour would warrant such an honour?” “I”, she said “am the one who should be receiving the degree”.

I do thank the University for recognising that there are some people in this world who don’t always adhere exactly to the law in pursuit of creating something more beneficial.

All of us today who are receiving a degree have a special obligation to analyse, and in most cases, create. In turn, we must go forth and prove something: to change people’s lives for the better.

We are obligated to focus on certain issues, amongst the many problems of this world. We are obligated to get there long before the politicians who seldom get it right. We are obligated to imagine potential outcomes. We are obligated to stir up the courage within us. And yes, we are obligated to go forth and daringly initiate a solution to change people’s lives. Go do it. Do not waste what this magnificent university has given to you.

I thank you.