Generac founder, philanthropist Robert Kern dies at 96

Robert Kern

Robert Kern, the founder of Town of Genesee-based generator manufacturer Generac Power Systems Inc., died Tuesday at the age of 96, the company announced today.

Kern started Generac in 1959 with five employees in a garage in Wales. An engineer by training, he spent the next several decades growing Generac into an industry leader, developing new products and creating new markets for the company’s generator and engine technologies. Generac was the first company to commercialize portable, engine-driven generator sets.

“Bob’s passing is a tremendous loss for the Generac family and the larger community,” said Aaron Jagdfeld, president and chief executive officer of Generac. “His forward-thinking vision laid the solid foundation for what Generac is today. I had the distinct honor of working with Bob for nearly 15 years, and he continued to serve as a mentor to me and to others well into his retirement. He was a true entrepreneur in every sense of the word as his work ethic, tenacity, and innovative spirit are the embodiment and the defining characteristics that live on in our company today.”

In 2006, BizTimes Milwaukee (then known as Small Business Times), presented Kern with its Bravo! Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kern sold the company in 2006 and shifted his focus to philanthropy. He and his late wife, Patricia, established the Kern Family Foundation in 1998 with a mission dedicated to enhancing lives by promoting the value of work, developing the formation of good character, increasing educational achievement, and instilling an entrepreneurial mindset. The Kern Family Foundation has donated to numerous local organizations in the Milwaukee area, including gifts to the Milwaukee School of Engineering, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Marquette University’s College of Engineering. A foundation gift to MSOE helped fund construction of the Kern Center, a 210,000-square-foot athletic facility. Earlier this year the foundation pledged $50 million to the Medical College of Wisconsin, building upon a $37.9 million gift it made to MCW in 2017 to establish the Robert D. and Patricia Kern Institute for the Transformation of Medical Education.

In addition to local area giving, the foundation has been active in supporting many nationwide programs, causes, and organizations focused. Those include gifts to create the Mayo Clinic Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery to help improve patient’s health care experiences, as well as the creation of the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network and education-related funding for programs such as Project Lead the Way.

Generac became a public company in 2010. Today it ranks #723 on the Fortune 1000 list, with more than $3.7 billion in revenue in 2021.

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Andrew Weiland
Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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