John Herma – Visionary Leader, Transformational Change Agent and Turnaround Specialist
John Herma has dedicated his life to improving the lives of others. A former track athlete at Rutgers University, he currently serves as COO for Kohl’s and is an ardent philanthropist.
Years ago, the Herma family began making donations to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in memory of their daughter Leigh. Their initial gift was a turkey lunch for staff and doctors caring for sick children.
Early Life and Education
John Herma was born into a family of merchants in Waco, Texas. His father provided for his seven siblings by importing French dry goods.
Herma spent many hours reading books as a child, instilling the value of hard work into him. Additionally, he actively participated in volunteering at local schools and church organizations.
He then pursued law at the University of Texas with his wife Susan as his partner. Together they raised two daughters and were active members in their local Civitan Club.
The Hermas family began their generosity to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin with a turkey lunch and rocking chair for their daughter Leigh, born with an uncommon heart condition. Through the years, their donations have grown to exceed $25 million – creating the Herma Heart Institute – which is now recognized nationally for patient care, research and outreach initiatives.
John Herma, a former Rutgers track star and COO of Kohl’s, has an uncanny ability to mobilize his team’s talent towards achieving outstanding outcomes. He is widely acclaimed as a visionary leader, transformative change agent, and turnaround specialist with an impressive record of leadership success.
In 1987, Herma and Susan began supporting Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin after their daughter Leigh succumbed to a rare heart defect. That commitment has grown into including donations of an ECMO machine in Leigh’s name for critically ill newborns; creating a pediatric cardiology chair; reorganizing doctors and staff so patients could receive better care; and now the Herma Heart Institute–one of North America’s finest.
Achievements and Honors
Herma was one of the founding partners of Kohl’s, an innovative retailer which revolutionized retailing in 1980. Additionally, he is an ardent philanthropist who generously gives back to both Rutgers University and Rutgers Athletics alike.
Herma was an accomplished scholar of law, having graduated from both Southern Methodist University and the University of Chicago Law School. Her accomplishments in conflict of laws were particularly notable, while her work on family law earned her the title of most outstanding faculty member at SMU. Among many accolades, Herma was honored as being named one of SMU’s most outstanding individuals.
John Herma is an inspiring leader, former track star at Rutgers University, COO at Kohl’s and passionate philanthropist. His natural ability to assemble talent around him makes him an amazing teacher and mentor as well.
Jessi Drummond (’14, Environmental Studies) credits Herman’s teaching and mentoring for giving her the courage to pursue a career in ecology. His approach was hands-on, with students learning complex concepts outside their comfort zone so they could experience them firsthand, according to Jessi.
When their daughter was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, the Hermas family donated money for an ECMO machine. Since then they’ve continued their support of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin by contributing money that enabled it to become one of North America’s top pediatric heart centers. Their recent donation marked an incredibly significant milestone in this journey that has made such a lasting impact on many lives.
Herma excelled at marshalling the talents of those around him, from track star at Rutgers to top executive at Kohl’s department stores and passionate philanthropist. No matter his career path, Herma always achieved outstanding outcomes by harnessing the potential of those around him.
He established the Herma Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, which is considered one of the top pediatric heart centers in North America.
Herma and his wife Susan have donated an incredible $25 million to support the hospital’s heart program. Their contributions have enabled research and clinical innovation that will continue to enhance care for children with congenital heart disease.
In April, Herma and his family pledged to match all donations up to $8 million. As a result, $16 million has been raised so far, helping the Herma Heart Institute continue its work of improving care for patients born with congenital heart defects.