Laura Kohler: How Can a Company Foster Meaning for its Employees?
‘Perspectives’ is a joint project of The Beautiful Truth and Leaders on Purpose. During the 5th annual Leaders on Purpose CEO Summit, The Beautiful Truth conducted interviews with influential corporate leaders and thought leaders. The goal was to gain insight into their perspectives on purposeful business and answer the question: what actions should our businesses take in the current historical context?
Laura Kohler is Chief Sustainability & DEI Officer at Kohler Co. and has served on its Board of Directors since 1999. Kohler Co. manufactures kitchen and bath products; luxury cabinetry, tile and lighting; distributed energy solutions; and luxury hospitality experiences and major championship golf. Family-owned and now in its fourth generation, it is one of America’s oldest and largest privately held companies.
Laura oversees the company’s worldwide integration of environmental sustainability and social impact efforts. This includes driving progress towards environmental, social and governance goals and leading the company’s advancement and integration of diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the company.
Here, she discusses how Kohler Co. is fostering meaning for its employees.
“A company has the power to make the community around it a healthier place for people to work and live, while simultaneously making the business stronger.”
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
What is Kohler Co.’s purpose?
Our purpose is ‘believing in better’ – better lives, better communities and a better planet. We believe that a company has the power to make the community around it a healthier place for people to work and live, while simultaneously making the business stronger.
It’s how we operate as a company, ensuring that our actions actively improve the lives of the people we employ and serve, as well as the environment that surrounds us.
Your company has been around for over a hundred years and has been family-run since the beginning. Tell me more about this; what has stayed the same since the beginning?
Since 1873, when my great grandfather came over from Austria to Wisconsin and founded Kohler Co., the company has cared deeply about the idea of community. He invested in a dormitory for workers next to its main industrial plant in order to develop an industrial community and support them financially.
Today the family is fourth generation and the company employs 40,000 people around the world, generating $9 billion in revenue across many industries. But we continue to invest in that original idea – we truly believe that strong communities positively impact the planet and create a strong environment for business as well.
Tell us more about your commitment to protecting the environment – where did it come from and how has it become part of the work you do today?
Protecting the environment is a crucial part of our commitment to giving back to the communities that we operate in. We work hard every day to minimise the company’s carbon output and our consumers’ carbon footprints, while still adding value to consumer lives.
We’re extremely proud of our Design for Environment program, which gives employees a rigorous framework to drive sustainability through each stage in the life-cycle of our products, such as ensuring our products are water-conserving.
“I really respect and honour clean air, clean water and the ground that we walk on.”
Aside from strategic operations, the environment is also really important to my family on a personal level. Our background is steeped in connections to the natural world; my father was an environmentalist and I was an Outward Bound instructor when I was younger. I really respect and honour clean air, clean water and the ground that we walk on. I’m personally inspired and motivated to bring along others on the path of appreciating what we’ve been given as a natural resource.
In what ways are you supporting your employees in making their lives better?
The ‘better lives’ element of our purpose is focused on the employee experience. During the pandemic, we doubled down on mental health support for all of our staff. That became a pillar that we invested in by connecting resources to our employees around the world.
We’re also highly committed to fostering wellness in general at Kohler Co. We invest in our employees’ learning, development and engagement – making their work meaningful and rich, so that they feel challenged and inspired. And when you engage their hearts and minds in the work, the benefit is retention, engagement and productivity.
How do you keep employees engaged with your company’s purpose?
Employees want to know that their role is meaningful, and that the company they work for is doing the best they can to be a good global citizen. They want to know how they fit into that proposition. We put our efforts into connecting every employee to the positive contribution that they’re making in the world.