Kohler was born February 20, 1939 to Ruth Miriam DeYoung Kohler (1906–1953) and Herbert Vollrath Kohler Sr. (1891–1968), who ran the Kohler Company from 1937 until his death. He is related to other former company Presidents, including Walter J. Kohler Sr. and Walter J. Kohler Jr. He was educated at The Choate School (now Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, Connecticut), of which he was Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 2005-10. He graduated in 1965 from Yale University with a degree in Industrial Administration and went to work for the company. In June 1972, he was elected chairman of the board and chief executive officer at the age of 33.
In 1961, Kohler married Linda Karger, but the couple divorced in the early 1980s. Kohler appeared in the film Open Range (2003), which starred Kevin Costner, and received the role because he was a friend of Costner. Kohler appeared in the news documentary film 60 Minutes Sports as himself playing a golf course owner.
After graduating in 1965 from Yale University, Kohler went to work for the Kohler Company which long has been a manufacturer of bathtubs, toilets and other plumbing fixtures. He worked as a laborer or technician in every division of the company. In June 1972, he was elected chairman of the board and chief executive officer at the age of 33. Under his leadership, the company more than doubled the size of its engine and generator Business and it launched an interiors group that now encompasses five furnishings lines.
Kohler owns a successful Morgan breeding facility where he has bred many well known Morgan horses such as HVK Bell Flaire, HVK Courageous Flaire, and HVK Vibrance. He was the owner of the Morgan horse Noble Flaire from 1985 until its death in 2006.
The National Kitchen and Bath Hall of Fame inducted Kohler in its founding year of 1989, followed by the National Housing Hall of Fame in 1993. Junior Achievement inducted him into its U.S. Business Hall of Fame in April 2006. Kohler received the "Legend in Leadership Award" from the Chief Executive Leadership Institute of the Yale School of Management later that year.
Kohler is an avid fan of professional golf and the Kohler Company owns and operates two courses designed by Pete Dye. The first course built was Blackwolf Run which is west of the village of Kohler along the Sheboygan River. It hosted the U.S. Women's Open in 1998 and 2012. The second built by Dye was Whistling Straits north of Sheboygan, along Lake Michigan. Whistling Straits hosted the PGA Championship in 2004, 2010 and 2015 and the U.S. Senior Open in 2007.
In 2007, Kohler's net worth was estimated at $4.0 billion. In 2009, his net worth was estimated at $1.3 billion and as of June 2016, Forbes has estimated Kohler's net worth at $9.1 billion.
In 2009, Kohler purchased "one of the sport's most famous buildings", Hamilton Hall, now the Hamilton Grand, a collection of 26 luxury apartments. Kohler owns the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews, Scotland.
In April 2015, the company announced Kohler was stepping down as CEO and relinquishing the title to his son, David Kohler.