At 83, Charles Koch Is “More Passionate And Working Harder Than Ever”

Charles Koch
Photo: Koch Industries

Charles Koch is one of those CEOs who really does not need an introduction.

One of the richest people in the world, Koch assumed the family business in 1967, renaming it Koch Industries Inc. in honor of his father, Fred Koch, who founded the oil refinery and chemical business in 1940. The son — with the aid of his brother, David — went on to transform the $21 million business into a $110 billion conglomerate, employing nearly 130,000 people worldwide, with about 67,000 of those in the U.S., and a presence in 60 countries (David retired in 2018).

Based in Wichita, Kansas, Koch’s myriad of companies are involved in refining, chemicals, and biofuels; forest and consumer products; fertilizers; polymers and fibers; process and pollution control systems; electronics, software and data analytics; minerals; glass; automotive components; ranching; commodity trading; and investments. Notable brands include Stainmaster carpet, Quilted Northern tissue and Dixie cups, plates and cutlery.

Koch has run the private conglomerate under a business philosophy he developed, “Market-Based Management,” also the subject of two books he authored, “The Science of Success” in 2007 and “Good Profit” in 2015. Koch has supported academic and public policy research, with a special focus on developing “voluntary, market-based solutions to social problems,” according to the Charles G. Koch Institute. He has also founded or helped build other organizations, including the Institute for Humane Studies, the Cato Institute, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and the Bill of Rights Institute.

“At 83, I’m more passionate and working harder than ever. I have these fabulous ideas, I think, which I like to see implemented and benefit other people besides myself,” Koch told attendees at the Global Philanthropy Forum conference in Silicon Valley last week.

A longtime libertarian who now considers himself a classical liberal, Koch is now working with people of all political stripes on causes important on all sides of the aisle, he said. In December, he joined forces with former Obama adviser Van Jones, the American Civil Liberties Union and conservative Utah Senator Mike Lee, to successfully lobby for a criminal justice reform bill, which passed with “rare bipartisan support,” Forbes wrote.

Now it’s on to comprehensive immigration reform, and Koch hopes to bring together a similar bipartisan coalition of supporters, he said.

“When we look at what we’re doing, we’re coming closer to what I think one of the great social entrepreneurs in our history, Frederick Douglas’ philosophy on this: ‘I’ll unite with anybody to do right and no one to do wrong.’ So that’s kind of where we ended up, after a long journey and a lot of missteps,” Koch said.

He’s No. 23 on Chief Executive and RHR International’s CEO1000 Tracker, a ranking of the top 1,000 public/private companies

Headquarters: Wichita, KS

Age: 83

Education:  Massachusetts Institute of Technology, M.S. and M.S.

First joined company: 1961

Prior to joining Koch: Arthur D. Little

Named CEO: 1967

Katie Kuehner-Hebert: Katie Kuehner-Hebert has more than two decades of experience writing about corporate, financial and industry-specific issues. She is based in Running Springs, Calif.